When a startup launches a PR effort it is (almost) always with great expectations. But, as with any endeavor, a lot of the output is based on the input. And that input is not so much the time and energy expended on getting coverage, it's how many different facets you have in telling your story.
From Propllr's 5 years of serving startups, and the team's many years beyond that, we have identified the following elements as indicators for the potential success of a PR program.
Are you on a mission?
Do you want to connect the world? Do you want to end software as we know it? Do you want to change transportation? Or do you simply have a good idea for how to deliver a product more efficiently? Any company answering yes to these can be successful, but from a PR perspective, it's the founders and startups that are on a mission that get the most attention.
Is your product/service broadly relevant?*
The more things happening in the world today that make your product relevant, the better. And this doesn't just mean that there's a need for what your startup is selling. Instead, are there broader trends reflected in your business? Things like sustainability, drones, big data, VR, the cloud, immigration, etc.
Is a product/service like yours inevitable?*
This is not to ask - is YOUR startup inevitable, but is something like what you're doing inevitable. This means that your startup's approach is an obvious response to current trends, historical patterns and common sense. That everything in the world is pointing to your solution, whether or not you're solution will win.
Is there reason for people to believe you’re the team/company to get it done?*
It's easy to say your startup is going to do something big; it's harder to get someone who doesn't know you to believe what you say. A story becomes believable when the founder brings unique strengths, when she has raised a large amount of money, when shehas a track record of tangible results, and when other people agree that she ison the right track.
Is there a simple way to describe your product/service?
So many startups founded by so many engineers fail in this area. But if you can describe what it is you do and what it is you believe in, and can do it simply and succinctly, it's much easier for PR to deliver its magic.
Do you have an inherently compelling story?
Some startups are lucky. They solve the earth's problems or sell a product that everyone on earth wants. Others have it tougher - they sell to a niche of a niche. When thinking about your PR potential, it's important to think of how you can broaden your story to make it as compelling as possible to as many people as possible.
Do you have any milestones?
Over one billion sold - McDonald's. Over two billion rides - Uber. One million ebooks sold every day - Amazon. These are big milestones that get attention. Most startups will fall short of McDonald's, Uber and Amazon, but their milestones can still be noteworthy. With more milestones you'll have more opportunity to spotlight your momentum and success.
Do you have customer testimonials?
Particularly with B2B startups, customers who will talk to the media can add rocket fuel to a PR program. And it doesn't always take their participation in interviews to be successful - it can be enough simply for your customers to allow their names to be shared with a reporter.
Are you a thought-leader?
Between the much-desired profiles and feature stories are countless opportunities for thought-leaders to get their startups attention. A thought-leader is someone who reads articles and finds their blood boils because key points are missed. They find themselves thinking: "I should really write a blog post about..." They are quick with a compelling take on important issues.
Have you raised outside funding?
Reporters really don't want to write about companies that aren't deserving. One of the ways they can get confidence that a company is deserving is by its ability to raise money, particularly if from a well-known individual or firm. So while a fast-growing bootstrapped company may seem more deserving of attention, the act of raising money gives many reporters the confidence they need to take a closer look.
Do you have a cool corporate culture?
There are so many PR opportunities for startups with a great corporate culture. But the culture has to be real, not an aspiration and not simply a ping pong table.
Have you had media exposure?
In financial services, they say: "Past performance is not indicative of future results." That's not true in PR. PR is a flywheel, and the more you do it the faster it spins.
Can reporters demo your product or service?
PR for professional services is difficult and time-consuming. A reporter can't demo an accountant, a lawyer or a money manager. But if you have a piece of accounting, legal or investing software that a reporter can try out and effectively evaluate, you're in a great position.
Are your startup founders and top executives interested in PR?
This sounds pretty obvious, but if there's no buy-in from the top, any PR program is going to be stifled. It won't get the funding or attention it needs, or the company buy-in for the results to be leveraged effectively.
Do you have any well-known founders/employees/investors?
Maybe Ashton Kutcher is backing your food app. Or the founder of Snapchat is an early investor. Or your technical cofounder was the genius behind a well-known unicorn. Having those names behind you can help your startup get the attention it deserves.
Can you share growth metrics?
It's not surprising that reporters would want to see metrics that back up a startup's claims of "killing it." While there's no way for a reporter to really know if you're telling the truth, it's normally safe for them to assume you are, as misleading them will come back to bite you when investors or employees wonder if they can trust your honesty.
Do you have hard news?
If you've raised money or had a significant launch, then that's hard news. If you've expanded your office 2,000 square feet, it's not. The more hard news the better, though a good PR firm or in-house rep shouldn't need it to be successful.
Are your competitors getting media exposure?
A big part of evaluating PR potential is looking at precedent. Are there reporters covering your competitors? Is your space one that gets media attention? If the answers are no, then that could indicate an uphill climb for broad attention.
Do you conduct surveys or research? Do you have interesting data?
This may actually be the biggest item on this list - certainly it's among the top five. Media outlets love quality data that they wouldn't have access to otherwise. Some companies conduct unique surveys on timely and interesting topics related to their business. Some employ data scientists to find compelling data collected during their normal course of business. And still others simply do a great job of aggregating disparate public data into a single data set reporters can sink their teeth into.
If you'd like to talk more about your potential for PR success, contact us today for a free one-hour consultation.
* The questions of Relevance, Inevitability, Believability and Simplicity come from this great interview First Round Review did with Facebook's Caryn Marooney. A must-read!