Here’s a good read from one of the founders of Marketing Envy, a results-driven marketing agency that helps tech startups scale. One of their recent blog posts titled, “Don’t Blame it on the PR Agency,” examines some important considerations that tech startups make about hiring a PR firm, such as marketing budget allocations, the length of engagement, etc. The blog post also discusses some key ingredients that startups should have ready to share with media, in order to make their story more compelling and help them standout.
We wanted to elaborate a bit more about what makes a company newsworthy, as well as what to expect from a successful engagement with a PR firm. Being in the public relations trenches, if we had to say the key ingredient that all that companies need to fuel their PR and news coverage is customers—specifically, referenceable customers who can champion your company and share positive insights into how they or their business benefitted from using your product. There is so much market noise bombarding the media that they aren’t going to believe a tech entrepreneur or their PR representative, when they are making claims about an amazingly cool new product. The press is simply too jaded and inundated with hundreds of similar claims, so their position is understandable.
If your company has a growing stockpile of unannounced news, then that’s a good indication the timing is ideal for you to look for a PR firm. Communications agencies can help you shape and tell your story, build market awareness, develop communities, and drive new prospects and business into your sales pipeline. Public relations can create a steady drumbeat with the market and help you connect and engage with your customers, target buyers, prospective partners and the media via core social media channels.
PR agencies know full well that the media will expect startups to provide critical evidence. This evidence or proof comes in the form of company progress—from corporate milestones to a growing customer base to strategic partnerships to ongoing product innovations, to compelling usage rates, etc. Media demands proof to back up vendor claims. Hard evidence is what they use to evaluate whether you are indeed a startup with the better mousetrap worthy of consideration.
Another good indicator your company is ready for PR is that it has successfully hit the right product-market fit, also commonly referred as minimal viable product (MVP). How do you know if you have reached the MVP stage? Because your company will already have paying customers, who are more than happy to open their wallet and invest in your product. Your business will also be experiencing steady, ongoing growth with new customers.
The majority of Silicon Valley and U.S.-based tech companies are “in it to win it”, meaning that they are committed to becoming the recognized industry leader. Most understand this cannot happen overnight, because they are typically battling formidable, well-funded competitors for market share and mindshare. They’re committed to steady, ongoing Marketing and PR efforts. PR is like Sales—if you let up, there is immediate silence.
As far as the length of engagement to consider when signing your PR partner, we recommend a minimum 6-month engagement over a 12-month one. There are many moving pieces and unexpected variables that unfold for rapidly growing startups. A 6-month engagement enables both parties to better plan, assess, and recalibrate around programs, events, and campaigns that tightly map to the company’s dynamic status. Many tech companies employ agile software development and continuous product iterations, so planning company communications 8-12 months out is likely to change. We don’t however recommend a short-term 3-month or 4-month engagement and here’s why: We find it too disruptive. Consider this: 6 weeks into a new engagement and likely a big launch, both parties will need to put activities in neutral to redirect focus and go back into planning mode to draw up a new communications plan, which will need to be reviewed and agreed upon. Then the legal department will need to review and approve a new LOA within 2 weeks to avoid PR coming to a grinding halt since no formal contract is in place.
In summary there’s a lot of preliminary PR planning that needs to be done. Decisions need to be made and timing nailed down—all pre-launch. It’s important for the company to put its best foot forward when wooing investors, industry analysts, business press, partners, customers, etc. If you are bringing a PR firm on board for the first time, the typical timeframe for a startup to get ready for its first launch is approximately 7-8 weeks. Imagine hiring an ad agency and expecting the new ad campaign to run within a week or two after bringing the firm on board. It simply isn't realistic. Clearly, a startup wants to get the most ROI for their Marketing budget. With solid evidence, a strong PR partner, advance planning and bold execution, your startup will head in the right direction.
Tweet us @ignitepr if you have any questions or comments. And stay tuned for more insights about maximizing your social media and communications budget.