You’re thinking about bringing a PR firm in to help your new start-up—but you’re wondering just what goes into the secret inner workings of public relations. What, exactly, is that PR firm going to be doing for you, anyway?
PR is nothing like the dark, scary world that people make it out to be—but it is a new one for most. And knowing the ropes ahead of time can save you from setting impossibly high expectations or getting overpromised and oversold by the firm you hire. I’ve seen more than my fair share of clients bringing in a PR firm with the hopes that it’ll save their company or propel a small, just-launched start-up into an insta-Facebook. And unfortunately, I’ve also seen PR firms make these types of promises. Guess what? They’re never kept.
So I’m here to give you the facts. Let me explain how PR really happens, and how you can make the most of it for your company.
1. Good PR Does Not Substitute for a Good Product
PR will not make or break your company, nor is it going to save your company if you’re floundering. In fact, there’s only one thing that will have any of those effects: your product.
What, then, does PR do? PR exists to build momentum. PR gets your name out there, letting you showcase what you’re doing well and driving awareness of your offering. Because let’s face it, when you’re a brand new start-up, no matter how amazing your product, it’s going to be painfully slow growth if you have to wait for your 15 initial users to tell their friends’ friends how great you are.
But PR is no substitute for having a great product. Nor is it a guarantee of sales, sign-ups, or funding—if anyone promises you otherwise, be wary!
2. You Want the Press That’s Right for You
Non-shocker alert: What does every PR client want? A New York Times piece, in print, right away. But while there are some clients that this is the right kind of press for, it’s actually not ideal for everyone—particularly if you’re a digital brand.
If you’re a new company trying to get users to sign-up for your services or download your app, the best press you can get is digital press. Think about it: It’s rare that someone is going to read the morning paper, see the name of your company, run to the computer, double-check the story to get the URL right, and go to your site. But if you’re featured in an online tech publication, readers will be able to click straight to your product home page—and that’s much more likely to translate to exactly the type of exposure you want. And then, eventually maybe even that New York Times print piece.
3. It’s Better To Be Successful Than Sexy
I know, we all want to be the coolest kids on the block. But here’s my advice: Don’t try to be cool, try to be successful. If you built a tool that you thought was going to be the great new thing used by every social media enthusiast, but it turns out it’s actually better suited to be a super-functional internal tool for large companies? Awesome. Ditch the “we’re the next Facebook” angle, and shift your focus to getting your name in front of large, corporate audiences.
More importantly, don’t use PR to try and be something you’re not. Spend your time and energy getting to know your audience, and be honest about who that audience really is. The more honestly you can share this information with your publicist, the better they’ll be able to get you placement in the right publications that will actually help you build on your early success. Don’t worry, you’ll be ultra cool when you sell your company for lots of money. Invite me to the party.
4. Launch is a Crapshoot
Who likes Vegas? I do! Who likes gambling? I do! Who likes that, no matter what, it’s impossible to guess how many people will actually read about your product on launch day? Nobody. But that’s the way it is.
I love that I get to work with very early-stage start-ups, most of which haven’t launched yet. I get to guide them through the launch process and find the right media outlets for them to make their big announcement. But with so many new companies, and only so many spots to get media coverage, it’s tough out there. A good PR rep should be able to tell you early on how the press is responding to outreach before launch. If interest is slow, use the opportunity to tweak your strategy—but don’t wait too long.
Because really, it is a crapshoot. I’ve seen unexpected clients have smash launches, and I’ve seen star clients be met with little interest. It’s important to be prepared for either outcome—and to not get too excited (or too discouraged) by your first press. After all, launch day is just one day in the life of your company.