Early Stage PR

with Julie Crabill

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The best ROI for startups

Julie Crabill

Founder & CEO, PR Expert

Lessons Learned

Even as PR mediums morph over time, fundamentals that existed from day one still remain relevant.

Find a good story, tell it to the right person at the right time, and avoid being too transactional.

Find a PR maven on your own team. Someone in your company naturally evokes and tells your story.


Lesson: Early Stage PR with Julie Crabill

Step #1 Story: The best ROI for startups

At a fundamental level, people and companies need PR because it’s storytelling. It’s sort of the core of life. At the beginning, it was cave drawings and it was that initial way to get the word across. Even people nowadays who think that they don’t need PR or that they aren’t doing PR, they really are. If you have a good story and you have storytellers on your team, even if their title isn’t a PR title, they are PR people. They are doing that relating to your public via your story.

I think that the press, whether it’s new media or old media, even influential bloggers and people on twitter, it’s a very powerful medium. You’re reaching a lot of people very quickly. Hopefully you’re reaching the right people for what you’re doing. But I think both from a straight vanity perspective of like, “I want to be on TechCrunch; I want my friends to see this; I want something that I can frame and put on the wall of my office,” to an actual, “I need to drive downloads; I need to have this VC; I need to read this article right before I walk into this meeting where I’m asking for the terms sheet.”

These things are all really powerful. No matter how the media morphs, I think that a lot of the fundamentals that existed from day one in this business still remain today. It’s about finding that good story, telling it to the right person at the right time, not just being transactional about it, as in “I just call you when I need something from you.” Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of that.

So I think that as much as the media is a powerful entity and as much as you look at it as something that is unapproachable, and you have to bow down and figure out the right way to get them to do what you want, they’re people, too. So put yourself in their shoes. You hate being at a conference and having somebody scan badges in the room and try to figure out who’s important and only talk to the person who’s important and not anyone else. You don’t like being on the receiving end of that and neither do these people.

Should I just take this on myself? I’m not at a stage yet where my company either has those resources or needs to spend those resources on getting outside help or even hiring a full-time internal person to do this job. I think there are ways that you can do it yourself, depending on the stage of your company and depending on your goals and what you’re trying to sell and to whom. What do you need to accomplish as a company? Write that down. What are the three to five key things? Not the three to five things that you think you need to accomplish from a PR perspective, like, “I want to be in the New York Times. I want to speak at TED.” All these things that people think they should tell PR people are their goals.

Your goals really, fundamentally, have to be business goals. “I need to close around a funding. My runway is only this long and I can only hire these people. I need to accelerate and grow rapidly based on what I’m seeing happening in the competitive landscape. Other people have my same idea or very similar and if I don’t get ahead of them I’m in trouble. Once you figure out all of that, then you can figure out what kind of heavy lifting you can do yourself or you have naturally in your team.

And, again, it comes back to storytelling. So if you are five guys or girls working out of your basement, look around you and say, “Who naturally evokes and tells our story best? Who maybe tells the story in a way that is a little too self-serving to the product?” Because there is a lot of that. There are people who feel that they can really, really tell the story but then they end up doing it in a very story pushing versus storytelling way. You want somebody who naturally evokes the “Why do people want this? What is it about our product that people really, really love? Why do they need it now?” The elements of the story that feel a little bit more natural versus a list of the five reasons why you’re better than the competition and you’re going to kill them.

PR is an incredibly effective tool to get your story to the right people. So when you’re thinking about telling the world about what you’re doing and you’re saying, “Well, I’ll get a higher return on my investment if I pay for downloads versus if I get them organically via PR as a channel,” you’re not getting the same quality. If you’re buying a download, you’re having people download your app because they are prompted to in a way that makes them feel like they kind of have to. They’re very unlikely to become engaged users. So if what you need is an immediate spike in downloads so that you can go into a meeting and show someone a slide and say, “Look at all these downloads!” then maybe that’s the right thing for you.

But if you’re looking to build a long term community of users, people who will evangelize what you do, people who will stay behind you and get excited about what you’re doing, and defend you when you’re having a bad day or something happens that you wish didn’t, you need to build those in a way that is holistic and natural. And I think PR is the best way to do that. I was meeting with an entrepreneur I’ve worked with multiple times the other day for lunch and he actually said to me that he thinks that PR is the absolute best, highest return on investment, the best spend that a startup can do. And I said, “Can I quote you on our web site?” And he said, “Yes.” To be coming soon on our web site. But I think it’s great to hear somebody say that, where he can really see that for the lowest overall spend, you can get the highest bang for your buck if you put the right things into it in terms of your time, your energy, telling the right story, giving the right accessibility, and just really making sure that you’re really focusing your PR team’s time on the right stuff.

A lot of the times we will have entrepreneurs who are too busy to do PR come to us. It’s great that they understand that it’s something that they need to do, but this is a problem that you cannot just throw money at. You have to give it time and energy. I guess if you had enough money you could throw a lot of money at it, but I’m an extremely expensive admin, and if I’m chasing you for stuff that you should be providing me without me having to ask you for it, then you ultimately are spending your money in a really, really sad way. It would be better for you to spend slightly less on PR and make sure that you have an administrative assistant who can chase you for the things that I ask for versus making me do it. Because I can spend 60 to 80% of your budget and really only spend 20% on doing the stuff that is high-value because you’re not responsive and because you’re not getting us what we need to do our jobs.

I think that fundraising is a PR worthy event. I think a lot of it depends on how much you’re raising and from whom and why. So I don’t think that just coming out and saying, “We raised $2 million from angels,” is necessarily PR worthy. A lot of it depends on where your company is. So if you can show some other momentum to your story or if you can talk about your strategic investment and why those investors matter, if you can launch something from a product perspective at the same time, I’m a fan of using that fundraising news to give the story additional legs.

So a reporter who writes for a more financially driven outlet might not care about your upgrade to your product. But if it’s an upgrade to your product with even a small funding announcement, suddenly they’re interested in taking a meeting, right? It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to write right at that moment. They might need to wait for your series A or your series B where you have a larger round to announce. But it will get you on their radar and they’ll have a deeper understanding of your company earlier in the process before you go back with that bigger news that you do want them to cover.

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