Another Reason Tech Startups Need PR

For a new technology business, the decision to commit to a PR agency or in-house PR consultant is a consequential one. It’s also occasionally controversial. Celebrity entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban have warned ambitious startups against spending on an outside PR firm. Cuban sees PR spend as wasteful and premature for most early-stage companies. He figures the founder should be able to do the job on his own – possibly an unrealistic idea for people who aren’t Mark Cuban. Others in the VC community argue that PR is essential to a successful fundraise, and they preach its ancillary benefits for talent recruiting, business development, and M&A. B2B companies in particular stand to gain from the right PR campaign, because B2B PR often involves vertical and trade press, which is easier to penetrate than mass media. For consumer brands, of course, PR can strike a spark that lights the fire of mass appeal. But can a PR campaign pay for itself?

The PR factor: are coverage and cash correlated?

A new study has identified a link between positive PR and capital raised, at least for some businesses. Data-driven UK consultancy Hard Numbers teamed with global research company CARMA for a look at the possible impact of media coverage on fund-raising for tech startup businesses in the UK.

The study focused on the critical Series B fundraise on the theory that the B round “is one of the most significant events for scale-up businesses” and a key inflection point for most startups. It examined 120 companies who raised a Series B round between January 2018 and July 2020 and compared the size of the first and second funding rounds. For the same period CARMA analysts looked at content generated by and about those businesses in the UK.

More media, more money

Companies with the largest increase in funds raised between rounds A and B also generated the most media coverage. The study documents an average of 206 pieces of media coverage for the high-fundraising businesses, as compared to 176 pieces for those with a “medium” increase in funds raised and only 146 pieces of coverage for companies that saw the lowest delta between funds raised between Series A and Series B. (I’m presuming the vast majority of coverage analyzed was positive.)

Not surprisingly, the data showed the most pronounced differential between fundraising rounds in the B2C sector. Other high-performing verticals when it came to monies raised were business productivity software and fintech.

It’s all interesting, if not definitive. The Hard Numbers study was limited to the UK, and the sample, while impressive, isn’t very large. Also, correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. The results could simply mean that companies that are more mediaworthy will naturally attract greater investment for similar reasons, i.e., their business models or positioning simply warrant it. Of course, the study’s authors are natural champions of PR for early-stage businesses. But it comes as no surprise to me. I’ve always thought good PR is like money in the bank, but the maxim may be more literal than not. And there are plenty of other reasons for a new company to invest in PR.

Positive PR drives recruiting

We see this in our own small PR agency, but for a high-growth startup, employer branding is essential. Tech businesses in particular are navigating a red-hot talent marketplace for engineers, IT professionals, sales people, and many more types of positions. A reputation for being a great place to work, driven by PR as well as good word of mouth, is a priceless asset when it comes to recruiting the best.

The right PR helps generate demand

Earned media isn’t the most consistent generator of business demand for a company’s products or services; for that, direct-marketing and sales work more reliably, and they scale better than a PR program. But the splashy PR generated by big stories in key media outlets like TechCrunch or VentureBeat come with enormous credibility. That means influence.

PR drives SEO

The strength of A-list media domains translate to very real SEO value. A single big-hit PR placement in a top-tier publication can boost a company’s search results to the first page for months or even years. That can confer a tangible advantage over competitors. And who else is likely to be influenced by search results? VCs, of course.

Coverage begets coverage

Funders aren’t the only ones influenced by positive media coverage and page-one search results. Media are, too. It’s a well-known “secret” among PR people that media often follow other media. In particular, broadcast outlets follow print media. Each will develop their own angles and commentary, of course, but it’s a beautiful thing when media coverage snowballs, gaining acceleration and momentum as time goes on. Those earned media stories can be merchandised for recruiting, sales, and funding presentations.

The right PR helps generate demand

Earned media isn’t the most consistent generator of business demand for a company’s products or services; for that, direct-marketing and sales work better. But the splashy PR generated by stories in key media outlets like TechCrunch or VentureBeat come with enormous credibility.

That’s why most organizations bring on PR agencies, of course, and it holds true in the startup world. But it’s a mark of just how valuable many startups and their stakeholders view the right PR campaign that it’s not even the top reason on their lists.

Five Signs You Shouldn’t Hire A PR Firm

Many of us in the PR agency world evangelize about the benefits of a strategic public relations campaign, including why and when a company should bring on a firm. Yet the growth of our industry – it was up 11% in 2013, the first double-digit increase in five years – doesn’t mean PR’s benefits are well understood. We sometimes experience the “flavor of the month” syndrome, when a company looks at a PR agency relationship like a shiny new object, without insight into how and when it should be done.

The decision shouldn’t be a Hail Mary pass. Here are some reasons and occasions NOT to hire that dazzling PR agency you heard about or met with last week.

You don’t have clear goals. A good agency can develop a PR or communications strategy, but the right campaign should be informed by a company’s business objectives. It’s also helpful to have a clear idea of what constitutes a successful program, and how you will measure results. If the agency doesn’t have answers to those questions, move on.

You urgently need a quick sales boost. This one’s arguable, because some of my peers will say that the right media relations program can generate demand. It can, and when an earned media placement hits and drives site traffic or retail sell-in, it’s pure magic. But what a client company should understand is that the media relations piece of a PR program is very seldom a quick or reliable generator of leads or conversions. It works better as part of a digital marketing and SEO campaign, or as a branding and reputation tool over time.

Your team is overworked and needs help. Even the most talented team cannot operate in a vacuum. If you’re planning to bring on an agency to save time or take tasks off your staff’s plate, think again. A good agency will demand the involvement and input from decision-makers. If they don’t, it’s a red flag.

You’re experimenting. The marketing budget was cut, so you decide to try PR for a few months. This is probably the worst reason to bring on a PR partner. PR is rarely a substitute for marketing, but even if it is, it requires a longer-term commitment. (See #2.)

You want to be one of the cool kids. We see this in the startup culture. Although the pros and cons of outside PR agencies are hotly debated in tech and entrepreneurial circles, some early-stage businesses feel pressure to make the hire prematurely, or without clear reasons or goals. Even the most buzzed-about PR firm with the cutting-edge startup clients won’t turn you into Biz Stone unless the raw material is there and the rationale is sound. In fact, if they’re too busy with the next Uber or Airbnb, they probably won’t have time for you.

10 Rookie PR Mistakes That Startups Make

“It’s not rocket surgery” is how Polish entrepreneur Michal Sadowski describes building a startup business in a self-produced video that’s currently making the rounds.

Mixed metaphors aside, Sadowski’s video has been called out for ignoring the tough side of entrepreneurship. And it’s true that if you’re a startup or a new company, your life is full of competition – for financing, for talent, and, for PR visibility — the exact thing that Sadowski was after when he made the video. Buzz, of course, is one of those intangibles that makes scoring financing and attracting the best and the brightest that much easier.

Yet, precisely because early-stage businesses are so focused on other growth strategies, many of them stumble when it comes to developing a strong PR or media relations program. Here are some of the most common reasons why startup PR fails to gain traction when it counts the most.

1.   Your messaging is unclear. Chances are, it’s too complicated or confusing. This is common to technology companies, although it’s by no means limited to the tech sector. Or, maybe it’s overly commercial. A simple, concise, and compelling message that accurately captures your product or service is more difficult than it seems, but it is critical to long-term PR success.

2.    You rely on press releases. “PR by press release” is typically a waste of time and money. Wire services can be costly, and even the pickup generated from enhanced news release distribution isn’t reliable or strong enough to justify it as a regular tool.

3.    You make hyperbolic claims. Having lofty goals is one thing; blatant exaggerations or outright fabrications are something else. We briefly worked with a startup client whose narrative included traffic goals and metrics that were so preposterous we knew they wouldn’t stand up to media scrutiny. Nearly a year later, he’s still out there, making very far-fetched growth predictions, and no one is listening.

4.     You’re selling instead of informing or telling a story. Many CEOs or Marketing executives fall into the trap of confusing a meeting with a journalist with a sales pitch. It’s not. As the adage goes, give me something I can use. That means a story. If you can’t envision your words in an actual news article, chances are you’re overly commercial.

5.     You’re aiming too high.  A top-tier outlet like The Wall Street Journal or Mashable is unlikely to drop everything to cover your launch, no matter how compelling it seems. It’s often useful to start with low-hanging fruit, road-test your message, then move on to larger media.

6.     Your story is boring or technical. What’s fascinating to a founder or manager may not be to a journalist or partner. The greatest crime in this game is being boring.

7.     You’re not committed. PR is also one of those marketing practices that simply needs a minimum of four to six months to start bearing fruit, and it requires daily care and feeding. A “fits-and-starts” approach to media relations rarely gains traction.

8.     You’re not open. Media need to vet and verify their stories. This means facts, numbers, and other specific forms of evidence that support your story. If you’re not prepared to share, you should rethink the approach.

9.     You’re not different.  If your product or service is a “me-too” entry in a shiny new category dominated by well-followed companies, you’re unlikely to win more than a press mention without changing your model or showing differentiation.

10   You paint by numbers. It’s critical to have a plan, but a formulaic approach that doesn’t allow for flexibility or spontaneity will leave opportunities on the table. That’s where Sadowski’s “MTV-esque homage” to the life of a startup entrepreneur scores. It’s fresh, fun, and different enough to have been noticed by TechCrunch,  even if it only tells one side of the story.


5 Hot Content-Sharing Tools For Tech PR

In tech PR, thought leadership requires more than innovative ideas. You also need an understanding of technology, as well as familiarity with hot platforms, so that you can pick the latest and greatest tools to effectively package and share your ideas with both media and influencers.

Basically, your musings on Twitter’s IPO should be shared—just don’t do it via MySpace. That’s embarrassing no matter how interesting the content is. There are more forward-looking platforms available today that you can use, with the platform serving as a reminder of your expertise.

Here are five of the most interesting, buzzed about tools for content sharing.

Medium & Svbtle
The brainchild of Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, Medium is a new publishing platform that emphasizes thoughtful, long-form content. What separates Medium from other standard blogging services, though, is the influential (btob) community that currently uses and supports it.

Thanks to Williams’ pedigree, media, business leaders and Silicon Valley’s Internet elite are all on Medium, either reading or writing. The interest in the platform is actually helping the content do well. Sure, it may be a niche audience, but it’s an influential one for marketing your own expertise. Svbtle is another publishing platform like Medium that’s similarly valuable for its influential community.

Here’s the kicker, though—for both Medium and Svbtle, reading is available, but writing is invite-only (makes shared content from either platform seem even more valuable—that you were accepted to be a writer indicates leadership). Invites are in-progress now (I just received mine!), so sign-up today.

Quora is a social Q&A platform that’s been around since 2009. You can answer any question posed by other users, or pose your own. But Yahoo Answers—a huge disappointment / mess—this is not. Quora is an actual value-add when looking at ways to highlight your thought leadership via content marketing.
You answer questions directly or via blog post – Quora has its own blog feature – which can build your online cred as an expert and, in some instances, generate leads. Moreover, though, Quora, like Medium, owns an influential, niche user base that you can interact with directly via questions and answers. This is key. There are other Q&A services out there, but they lack the insider chops that Quora has today.

LinkedIn’s SlideShare lets anyone share biz presentations and video. It also serves as a social discovery platform for users to find relevant content and connect with others who may share similar interests. The service has caught on beyond sharing, though and is literally seen as a content marketing channel.
The best part about SlideShare? Again, it’s all about community. SlideShare is a professional channel, with a who’s who of users in marketing, tech, advertising, etc. With it, you enable influence at scale and add substantial reach to your projects across a well-cultivated audience of btob professionals.

Facebook Notes
This might seem odd, but hear me out. Yes, Facebook has a micro-blog feature called Notes. No, you’ve probably never used it before (it’s buried in your third-party apps list). It’s actually, a strong, albeit basic, publishing platform. Many early adopters still use it, yet it hasn’t lived up to its potential.
So why should you use it? If you’re seeking to be a thought leader, you likely have an established following on Facebook, or at least you’re in the stages of building that following. What better way to connect with these followers than through Facebook, as opposed to new a presence elsewhere?

These are just a few of my favorite content-sharing services. Of course, there are hundreds of others. What platforms do you prefer?