The importance of managing PR is becoming increasingly evident in the startup world. Unfortunately, there are still many startups who don’t think they “need” PR. The problem is that public relations isn’t a choice. Any entity, be it an individual or a business, has an involuntary relationship with the public. That relationship will continue to exist regardless of whether it’s acknowledged or managed. Choosing not to focus any energy on building it is a mistake. In the on-demand, connected world we live in, the belief that PR should take a backseat can be fatal for startups. Says Joseph McKeating (@JosifMcK), Founder of Pulsar Strategy and Editor at Editorial IV, in a recent Q&A with SearchDecoder.
I enjoy my meetings with Joe McKeating, a follow Brooklyner, once in a while at Kos Kaffe in Brooklyn, a Coffee Shop in Park Slope where local writers, creative, and entrepreneurs start their day at 6 am hunched over their Mac laptops and latte. Myself often among them. Joe brings a fresh perspective to the topic of effective PR for startups. Our brainstorming sessions started being frequented by more and more local entrepreneurs, among them Brian Honigman (@BrianHonigman), whom I also interviewed on this blog, and Eran Eyal (@EranEyal), CEO of SpringLeap.
Joe began his career working as a publicist for consumer brands at Rubenstein PR in midtown Manhattan before moving on to Prosek Partners. Realizing the value that good storytelling and proper messaging can add to startups, and convinced that big agency life was not for him, Joseph founded Pulsar Strategy, a small and nimble startup PR firm.
What are the PR pitfalls for bootstrap entrepreneurs?
Two main pitfalls:
- not forming a strategy,
- and failing to understand the very nature of public relations.
Let me begin by saying that there are plenty of entrepreneurs and startups doing an excellent job at bootstrapping their public relations efforts, and that with a good strategy it’s possible to go a long way before you need to consider retaining an agency or bringing someone on full-time.
The most important word in that statement? Strategy.
You must come up with a PR strategy for your startup. Most businesses, even those working with an agency, fail to understand the difference between a strategy and a concerted effort to get as many media mentions as possible. The misconception that public relations and media relations are synonymous can be dangerous, damaging and even damning. And to add to the problem, it’s a belief that has long been reinforced by those in the public relations industry. The truth is that media relations is only one aspect of public relations and should be leveraged strategically, not aggressively.
[Tweet “‘The misconception that public relations and media relations are synonymous can be dangerous’ #quote @JosifMcK”]
For example, let’s say what you refer to as your strategy could be characterized as the “get as many media mentions as possible” model. You put together a list of 100 reporters and blast a pitch out to all of them. Your efforts result in two media mentions, or “hits” as they’re often referred to. This outcome – which many businesses and traditional PR agencies alike would consider a success – I consider spamming the 98% who now associate your brand with that time they were trying to meet a deadline and lost their train of thought because of your interruptive email.
Chances are, most of the reporters in that humongous list weren’t even the right contacts to begin with, which further hurts your brand by showing that you don’t do your research and would rather take a shotgun approach. Understanding those sorts of differences is what separates strategy from recklessness, and good public relations people from bad.
The importance of managing PR is becoming increasingly evident in the startup world. Unfortunately, there are still many startups who don’t think they “need” PR. The problem is that public relations isn’t a choice. Any entity, be it an individual or a business, has an involuntary relationship with the public. That relationship will continue to exist regardless of whether it’s acknowledged or managed. Choosing not to focus any energy on building it is a mistake. In the on-demand, connected world we live in, the belief that public relations should take a backseat can be fatal for businesses.
[Tweet “Any entity, be it an individual or a business, has an involuntary relationship with the public #quote @JosifMcK”]
These two things – one a misunderstanding, the other approach – are the biggest downfalls I see in businesses, especially young startups, that try to bootstrap their own public relations efforts.
What are the PR myths in the start-up world?
One of the biggest myths is that in order to succeed you need to work with a “PR guru.” General rule of thumb: be skeptical of those who refer to themselves as gurus. The best people I’ve ever dealt with in public relations are not geniuses – they’re scrappy, calculated and energetic. That’s what it takes to succeed. Effort and strategy trump all other characteristics.
Another myth is that people in public relations are either (a) unintelligent or (b) shady. Compared to other industries, there is a low barrier to entry. This is a problem that industry gatekeepers have brought upon us and that several people – myself included – are working to change. Don’t be fooled though, there are plenty of people in PR who would have excelled in any field. As far as being shady, this belief is based on the notion that public relations is the work of “spin doctors.” You can find cases to support that belief, but public relations as a whole has moved way beyond that.
How to measure your PR success?
Thanks to technology and digital media, we’re more capable than ever of measuring public relations efforts. Let’s start with some of the historical issues then move on to solutions available today.
There are still some intangibles. For example, building a brand that is engaging, trustworthy and transparent is integral to maintaining a loyal customer base. However, putting a monetary value on all of the efforts that go into building that brand reputation can be difficult.
Both public relations and marketing have long struggled with quantifying results. Since most PR agencies focus almost exclusively on media relations, results have historically been measured by the number of media hits. Why is this a bad measurement? Two reasons.
First of all, these results have often been measured comparatively. If you’re my client and I’m your agency, I might tell you that a half-page article written about you or your business in the WSJ is equal in value to half-page advertisement. This is a common practice in public relations and is referred to as advertisement value equivalency (AVE).
If you have any experience purchasing advertising space in the WSJ, you know that the cost is astronomical, so in many cases, no, that article is not as valuable as the advertisement. But in some cases, it might be just as valuable. Hell, it might be more valuable! The only thing we know for sure is that it’s not the same thing. Apples and oranges. Bad metric. Second of all, even if you have an agreed upon value of what a media hit in a specific outlet is worth to you, why stop there? That’s such a surface-level measurement.
Through Google Analytics and other accurate tools, we’re able to measure the effects of media attention and overall public relations efforts in ways never before possible. Let’s go back to that half-page article in the WSJ example. Instead of providing you with the AVE or simply reporting that the article is live, we can and should be asking many questions, including:
- How many people were directed to our website from that post?
- What percentage of them turned into paying customers?
- Was our target demographic represented in the referred traffic?
- How many people shared the post with their social networks?
- Was the reaction positive?
All of this information is now available and allows us to answer the tough questions with data rather than instincts. A lot of the change that occurred in advertising from the Mad Men days to today, where decisions are (usually) based on data, can be attributed to new tools and ways to measure what the public wants. Just like advertising evolved with technology, so must public relations.