Having worked with many Canadian startups looking for press coverage across North America, I've seen it all, textbook mistakes and huge wins in creating buzz globally.
It's important to know when to start, the right questions to ask your PR partner and how to come up with a plan that sticks. Here are some common questions we see and advice on how to create a successful PR campaign for any startup.
What do you need before starting a PR campaign?
Before even thinking about a PR plan, your company needs to be up and running – you need to be more than an idea. You'll need a strong functioning website and a solid understanding of your customer base. Having investment and backing behind your company or product also helps bring credibility to the concept.
Another key mistake companies make is going to the press before they have a finished product. If you need funding to mass produce a product that's fine, but more than likely you need to have a finished prototype to show media. For hardware products specifically, reporters and writers want to see what the might product look like and something that showcases how it works, even if it's not final. In fact, a sneak peek to a prototype is often a valuable part of your early PR program.
What makes a PR campaign successful?
Many startups begin a campaign without a strong plan of attack. It is important for you to have an understanding of who your potential customers is and other industry influencers, from there your PR team can make strategic recommendations on how, when and who to target from a media relations perspective.
Another thing to keep in mind during a PR campaign is quality over quantity. It's better to focus all of your work on getting the attention of reporters at reputable outlets that are going to help move the needle for your company. This doesn't necessarily mean readership numbers and size if you get a very specific placement in an industry publication that hits your target audience.
At what point should you bring in a PR team?
Once you are ready to start telling people outside of your company about you, it is time for PR. It's important to make sure your team is involved with strategic planning as soon as you have some of your marketing concepts going.
Bringing in your team the week before a big announcement or launch can kill a range of valuable approaches that make a huge difference. PR professionals are experts in the industry – we work with startups every day and the earlier we can start helping a company formulate its plan the better.
A PR team will help you come up with a strategy before communicating with press which is important to keeping with a consistent message and making sure you give all your target press a fair shot at the story. Before going to the media it's important to identify what your key differentiators are and what sets you apart from the competition, this is what reporters want to hear. They'll likely won't want to cover a product that's already heavily saturated in a market.
Another question to ask is: who's your audience? Are you trying to reach customers or investors? This can make a significant difference in which reporters and outlets you go after with your story. Choose a team that has experience in your industry and target market, if you're a Canadian tech startup trying to get U.S. media coverage, choose a team who has a track record for media placements in this market.
You've got a PR team and a plan, now what?
Once you've hired a team and identified your goals and message, it's time to go to the press. A good PR professional will help you formulate a timeline. A big mistake we see companies make is releasing too many different stories all at once. When trying to build a strong campaign slow and steady wins the race.
Timing out your stories so that you have a consistent flow of media coverage over several months is important. When trying to drive sales, it's better to hit your audience with multiple messages over-time: if they hear your story all at once, the message likely won't resonate with them.
One last thing to think about: PR professionals are experts in communicating with media and should help you not only choose who the best company spokesperson is but also train them to deliver the message in an interview. Choosing a thought leader on behalf of your brand and coaching them on the company's key messaging can help media interviews go smoothly, keeps your media message consistent and sets you up for future opportunities when the reporter has other stories you may fit in to.
Catriona Harris is partner and co-founder at Uproar PR, a full-service PR agency with offices in Toronto, Chicago and Orlando. She and her team work on strategic media relations, thought leadership and social media campaigns for early-stage and growth tech companies.