So far, your startup is on Cloud Nine. You’re financially solvent, you’ve hired a few people and are actually building up some cash flow. You’ll be the next Google in no time.
Eventually, you‘ll want to start using public relations to get your story out. But before spending all the time and money it takes to run a well-oiled PR campaign for your startup, make sure your company is ready. If not, you likely won’t get any (positive) press coverage, will waste a good chunk of money and could even find yourself tangled in rocky coverage that will take even more time and money just to get out from the avalanche.
So, when do you need public relations for your startup? There is no exact science, but here are five signs that your startup might be ready:
1. The startup has a clear, long-term vision: If the company changes its business model every few weeks, it will be hard to generate positive press coverage. Make sure the startup has a very clear vision on where it wants to go before you try to generate any press. Moreover, even if the startup is in the early stage, having customers, an early prototype or some other proof that the business is generating headway will make it easier to get coverage.
2. The startup knows the story it wants to tell: This is similar to the first piece of advice, except even a well-focused company could have many different storylines. For a startup company, it is usually important to pick a concise story you want to tell and then try to run with it. Public relations professionals can help with this, but at the end of the day, it is your company and you have the ultimate power to determine the story.
3. The startup is getting money: As I mentioned in my previous post on pitching, any material information that is in a pitch is likely to generate attention. If money that doesn’t belong to your mom, dad or college roommate starts flowing into your startup, then the business probably has something going for it.
TIP: Completing a fundraising round is often a good time to try to drum up press coverage. If executives join the team that are well known in the community (which is also considered material), that might be a good time as well.
4. Skeletons in the closet have been addressed: If you are ready to take the leap into generating press, be prepared for other things to surface. Maybe there are (hopefully just perceived) accounting irregularities. Maybe the startup has had tension with the community at large. Maybe the founder was a rowdy frat boy and pictures of him emerge passed out on the roof of him wearing nothing but an inner tube. Regardless, if you are worried something negative might surface, then evaluate its weight and then prepare how you will respond. Public relations is best used to sculpt a conversation, you lose a piece of control when the media gets ahold of it.
5. The startup fits into a larger societal trend: Hundreds of thousands of businesses are formed each year in the U.S. Most think they’re the cat’s meow. Therefore, it’s often challenging to determine the wheat from the chaff. When I was a reporter and spent too much time trying to understand difference, it was enough to declare chaff.
So, before you try seeking coverage, ask yourself, “How does the company fit into tackling larger issues in society?” Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the story ends up revolving around the startup. But in even more cases, it isn’t about just them.
If your startup meets these criteria, then it could be time to drum up some press. If not, that’s OK. There are many different ways to get your name out there; it could be search marketing, social media marketing or paid media options. Just know what you’re getting into before using PR.