ImPRessions

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December 27, 2011

PR For Startups: Why It’s Different

Over the years, I’ve worked with many startup businesses with a wide range of needs. Most have been successful relationships. Yet, more than other client programs, startups need focused attention on business-building strategies and tactics. At the same time, the typical startup, — being entrepreneurial, ambitious, and very driven – is likely to begin a relationship with outsized expectations. What’s more, it typically doesn’t have a lot of time to manage an agency partner. The combination can be a recipe for failure. Here are some things to keep in mind when evaluating a startup opportunity.

Expectations management is key. If they say, “We’re really counting on PR to drive demand, so we’re putting everything into our PR budget,” it’s a red flag. Even the most well-crafted PR program isn’t a replacement for a full marketing plan.

Startups are supposed to have lofty goals. All the more reason why it’s essential to define – and manage – them at the outset. Of course, this is true of any client-agency engagement, but startups are more passionate because they have to be. It’s their job. Which means that it’s our job is to make them see that PR is a better tool for brand visibility and positioning than demand generation. Those who expect to launch a consumer business fueled purely by publicity may be disappointed.

The founder is not the brand. This is where I think Jason Calcanis and others get it wrong. An evangelistic founder is a huge asset, and he or she is usually the most credible media and analyst spokesperson. But, the founder’s vision is only the beginning. And, not every entrepreneur is the best person to sell his story. I’ve worked with those who are either too close or too emotionally invested to connect with media and understand their point of view. A press tour is not a road show.

PR doesn’t stand for press release. A newsstream should flow from the overall business and communications strategy, but the document itself is a commodity. If they’re hiring a PR team for press releases, it’s a waste of money.

Some startups should handle PR internally. It’s not possible  to generalize, but there are many companies – particularly early-stage ones, for whom PR is basically networking and fundraising. For them, a DIY approach can work well.

Finally, PR can’t overcome a mediocre product or flawed business plan.  If it could,  Webvan, Kozmo.com, and Pets.com would be household brands today instead of symbols of vaporized cash – and dreams.

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