PR at the starting up stage
Founder & CEO, PR Expert
Get a 15 minute meeting with a PR person from your network. Ask them how and when to spend.
Stealth, alpha, or beta: you should be talking to people the whole time.
Always be on the lookout for moments when the world is the story and your product is the answer.
Lesson: Early Stage PR with Julie Crabill
Step #2 Launch: PR at the starting up stage
If you’re not going to launch your product for another six months, I don’t think that it’s so black and white to say that, “Hey, you shouldn’t hire a PR firm until two months prior to launch.” Or whatever that number is. I think it’s more like, “We have X dollars to spend between now and the end of this year. We plan to launch the beginning of Q3.”
As soon as you can, ask your network and find somebody that you can trust to give you advice on that. Whether it’s somebody at a large PR firm, a consultant, or somebody at a boutique firm like mine, it doesn’t matter. Find somebody through a friend of a friend that, “Who is the best PR person you know?” Ask that question and get an introduction to that person. Spend 15 minutes with them. Don’t waste their time. They’re giving you free advice because of that relationship. Spend 15 minutes with them and lay all your cards on the table. “This is what our runway looks like. This is the kind of round of funding we need to close, and when. We want to get it from a bunch of angels. We want one big marquee VC to fund this. These are the kind of hires we need to make.” Really put it all out there.
Give them everything and then ask them, “How and when do you think I should spend this money?” If they’re good, and they really are what your friend who refereed you says they are, they should be able to tell you, “Okay. Don’t spend all your money up front. You don’t want to spend all your PR money just to build this foundation and then you have no money left to build the house any more than you want to go and build the house without the foundation.” Let them give you that advice of the hows and the whens. Hopefully, in that case, they’ll be able to give you some thoughts on what you should be doing in the meantime.
I think a lot of it is, to your point of product market fit, can you get any users to give feed back? Or beta users or early testers to give feedback on what they think of your product? Can you determine the size of your addressable market in some natural way that you could then use when you’re talking to investors and when you’re talking to potential hires? How are you going to find the right hires in this particular hiring market, if you’re in San Francisco, in the Bay Area? That’s one of the biggest concerns we get, and it wasn’t 10 years ago. Now it’s really impossible to find the right people. I think really setting the stage for all of that, and figuring out where you need to spend your time and your money early on is going to be key.
I think at every phase—stealth, alpha, and beta¬¬, you should be talking to people. I’m saying that really broadly, right? “You should be talking to people.” There’s always something you can and should be doing. There are certain times where you are launching a company and you know that your main competitor is highly litigious. The second this news hits you’re going to get sued. Then you’re probably going to want to approach this a little bit differently. There are stealth companies that you know that what you’re coming out with is very similar to what a big behemoth like Google is working on, but yours is going at it from a different way. You probably don’t want to give them any information insight to what you’re doing that could bite you in the butt later.
I think just being mindful of your specific situation is important, but I think that on the broadest possible level you should be talking to the right people at the right times, all the way along. If that’s in stealth, picking the one or two reporters that you really want to get to know that are from major outlets that can be trusted not to rake your story, getting to know them, giving them little tidbits of information that wouldn’t totally screw you if they were made public, to see that they’re trustworthy before you go a little bit deeper down the path is probably a good idea.
When you get to alpha and beta phases of the product, again it depends on what your goals are for the company, but absolutely I think you should be figuring out how to tell that story to the right people at the right time. I guess that’s ultimately one reason I know that PR has good job security is because there really is no black and white answer to that question. It really depends on your company and what you’re selling and what you need to do and when. I think that the more you can tell your story to the right people at the right times, the better.
Early on, when you’re in stealth, or when you’re in alpha or beta and you don’t have the budget or the energy or the ability or the resources to spend your time with a PR firm or person, use the power of the exclusive to your advantage. Talk to one reporter about the story that you’re trying to tell. Make sure that you’re clear what your time frame is.
A great tip is when you’re trying to pitch an exclusive like that, make it time-bound, but not super time specific. Don’t say, “Hey, TechCrunch reporter, I want to give this story to you just at TechCrunch. I’m not talking to any other reporters. You have to run it next Thursday.” They might be too busy, you might loose your opportunity, or they might have wanted to do it, but they can’t do it at that time. But also don’t say, “You can write this whenever you want. I’ll just stand by until you say go,” because you can’t wait forever.
So I think it’s sort of like, “I’m happy to have you write this and I’m happy to launch this feature or this product or the thing that I’m telling you about. Make it public anytime between next Wednesday and the following Thursday.” That gives them a window to work with. It also gives you a chance, if they don’t get back to you in time or if something doesn’t happen, to try the next person and still have success in getting that story told.
There is a perception that for a launch you hire a certain type of PR firm, and for your ongoing needs you hire a different one. I think that depending on the firm you are working with that might be true. There are some people who are really, really experts when it comes to, “We’ve got this big launch, we know the run-up to the launch, we know how to make that happen. We know how to get you big press in that one individual moment.” But I think that ultimately that’s sort of a cop-out because if you are good at your job overall, then you should really be able to do both. So somebody who is good at just launching you, that person is very reliant on news. They’re not able to offer a lot of creativity beyond a creative approach to launching, in terms of telling your overall story.
I think that if you’re good at sort of just the long-term stuff, and you can’t do a launch, I think that’s probably less a function of your creativity and more a function of your scrappiness and aggressiveness. Maybe the people who are good at the long-term stuff but not the launches, they don’t have that drive to say, “We’re going to have this really intense moment in time, where we have this big launch.” That is really hard and really stressful. There is a lot of pressure that the team goes through when that kind of thing is happening. I think that anybody who’s worth their salt should be able to do both, but I don’t fault people who consult and say, “This is my expertise.” It’s probably less that they can’t do the other, and more that they really don’t like it.
You know that you’re ready for PR when you can crystallize your own story. It’s not just a product pitch or a technology pitch, but it really is a story of how your market and who you’re selling to, again, whether it’s a service or a product or hardware or software, it doesn’t matter. You’re able to talk about that market need. Why now? And why this offering is the perfect fit for them. I think you’re looking for those naturally occurring stories where the world is the story and your product is the answer, and not your product is the story.