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A press release no longer cuts it. Here's what to do to cut through the noise.
Once upon a time, a startup could issue a press release and get the word out.
If it were only that easy today . . .
Just like everyone else, a startup is confronted with a never-ending information stream from Twitter to YouTube to Yelp to Facebook and on and on. It becomes a challenge to rise above the noise, not to mention controlling the message across all media channels. Add the need to cost-effectively manage its communications, and you have a perfect recipe for startup agita.
So what’s a startup to do? Here are 7 ways a startup can raise its profile without breaking the bank:
• Take an unorthodox approach. Remember Dollar Shave Club’s breakthrough video that caused the company to get 12,000 orders in the first 48 hours?
Why was it so effective? “The video is irreverent and funny, the CEO likeable and also the chief evangelist sales officer--and is everything an officer could be,” says Maha Ibrahim, general partner, Canaan Partners, a global venture capital firm.
Obviously, most new enterprises won't benefit from the initial bonanza of a Dollar Shave Club. However, anyone can exercise creativity and a little boldness in marketing.
• Accentuate the difference. One example is Kabam, a late-stage gaming company that issued a press release detailing its financial performance. Normally private companies shy away from opening the kimono. But by doing so, Kabam sharpened the difference between itself and some of its better-known, yet poorly performing competitors, like Zynga, according to Ibrahim, whose company is an investor in Kabam. Rather than differentiating by focusing on an obscure feature no one cares about, draw attention to a feature, benefit or expertise that matters to customers.
• Founders need to evangelize what they do. Often lacking the budget to employ a full-time marketing or PR person, founders need to assume the marketing mantle. Marketing and PR must be incorporated into a startup’s culture so they are “talking up the company to everyone they meet and ingesting ideas,” advises David Beisel, partner at early-stage investors NextView Ventures. Cross a politician's zeal and charisma with a business person's product knowledge, and you get some idea of what's required.
• Avoid stealth mode. Avoid stealth mode. Startups can’t afford to be in stealth mode where everything is kept hush-hush. Doing that deprives them of valuable feedback, ideas and support when they need it most.
• Time and control the message. Wait to throw a launch party until you’ve launched your product. Who will care, especially if three months later the first product launched is a dud? “You need to be sure you have a viable product and a few customers before you launch,” counsels Ibrahim.
• Determine who your customer is and how to get the customer’s attention. “There is not one company that doesn’t struggle from the get-go to identify who the customer is and its message, and how to get the customer’s attention,” says Ibrahim, whose firm helps its clients better define their messages. A unique challenge is having both to explain what they are today and their future vision. “Specific to startups is a trade-off between what you’re doing today and what you’re doing six months, a year even, 10 years from now, what your grand vision will be. You need to pack all of that into a story,” says Beisel.
Excite people with a compelling picture of your company that has a story's plot elements--a beginning, middle and end with a challenge or conflict thrown in.
• Don’t bash the competition. Startups need to have a compelling enough story to stand on their own without roughing up the competition.
Ultimately, these efforts more than pay for themselves. They become a way to raise your profile among customers, prospects, investors and the media. Done right, startups will be better positioned for success for both now--and in the future.
Wendy Marx is the founder and president of Marx Communications, a boutique inbound marketing and public relations agency. An award-winning B2B public relations pro, she has helped many small- & medium-sized firms (SMBs) become well-known industry brands and transform their businesses, going from Anonymity to Industry Icon™.
Her business articles have appeared in The New York Times, InformationWeek, Inc., Advertising Age, & Fast Company, among other outlets.