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PR on a Shoestring Budget

Public Relations (PR) is a controversial subject for startups. On one hand, it can be an effective means of awareness-building for a nascent company or product. On the other, it can come at a big price, and it is difficult to measure its efficiency. How can a start-up get its name out without sacrificing scarce capital?

Trade publications. While for some, PR may mean being on the cover of your country’s biggest newspaper or magazine, a less generic / more targeted approach can be more cost effective and efficient. For example, a retail-focused startup would want to focus its efforts on Women’s Wear Daily, whereas a tech company may want to be featured in TechCrunch or Webrazzi. It is critical to see what publications your target customers read – what is their daily source of information, what – and who – do they trust?

Targeting influencers. Once key publications are identified, reaching out to relevant writers, with relevant content, is impactful. Emailing a particular reporter cold overnight about an irrelevant app launching the next day may not be fruitful. However, identifying that reporter, reading their recent articles and following them on Twitter will provide a sense of key topics and trends they are interested in. Establish an online rapport, so that when the time comes to reach out about your own company or service, you will stand out among the thousands of emails they receive that day.

Compelling content. Simply providing a link to an app or a website may not be enough. Whether it is exclusive access to product data (e.g. number of downloads, usage patterns) or – for those with more resources – whitepapers or other thought leadership pieces, providing content delivers value to the journalist and their readers. Infographics, with their punchy data and engaging visuals, are an increasingly effective tool.

Grassroots. PR does not just mean press releases or trade news articles. If you have a specific target demographic, find out where they are. For example, one gaming start-up had great success through reaching out to university groups and sponsoring on-campus pizza parties to promote its brand and game which is targeted at 18-30 year olds. While not as splashy as a cover article, experiential campaigns can be low-cost and high-impact.

Having scarce resources can force start-ups to be more thoughtful and more effective with their PR spend. Depending on the company and sector, hiring a PR advisor or agency around the A or B stage of funding is an appropriate expenditure. Having third-party endorsements from key media outlets featured in your pitch deck or website is a fast way of establishing credibility for your brand – after that, it’s up to your product or service to do the rest.

─ December 15, 2014