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Playing the PR long game
Founder & CEO, PR Expert
Block out time every week to work on PR, no matter what stage of business you are in.
Keep some arrows in your quiver. Do not aim to have a story in every outlet during your launch.
Your PR firm or rep should have access to all members of your team to find the best stories.
Lesson: Early Stage PR with Julie Crabill
Step #5 Timing: Playing the PR long game
You should always make sure that you are dedicating and setting aside time for PR. So I think that if you are in a very early stage company, you are not hiring outside help yet, maybe you want to put something on your calendar where it’s 30 minutes a week or an hour a week, give or take, where you say, “Okay, I’m going to spend this time creating that list of the five reporters that I’m going to really, really focus on at the beginning. I’m going to spend that time each week reading their articles, retweeting stuff that they write, DMing them on Twitter if they follow me or just interacting with them. Sending them an email about something that I’ve read, calling them up and offering my help if their relationship has evolved to that point where that seems natural. But I think as you grow from there you’re going to need to dedicate more and more time.
If you have an outside person helping you, whether it’s a consultant or a firm, I think sitting down with them and having that sort of honest, “let’s level with each other, what is this going to take in terms of my time” conversation is important. It could be that it ebbs and flows over a period, right? It could be that you’re working with somebody for three months, and they tell you upfront we’re going to need you to spend five hours with us a week. And you’re like, “Oh, that’s a big commitment.”
Okay. But in month two, we’re really only going to need about 30 minutes from you each week to respond to a few emails and answer questions for us. By month three, it can be even less than that. We’re only going to need an hour every two weeks because you’ve got this internal person that you’ve put on the job to being our liaison. It can go that way.
It could also be that you say to them, “Hey. Again, this week is really, really busy. I can’t help you this week, but my preference would be if you guys have questions for me that you send them at the end of the day all in one email, so I can respond to that one email versus five emails over the course of the day because I know I’m too busy to do that.” So communicating your preferences and communicating the time that you have and don’t have is really, really important.
The common thinking is that you should try to get as much coverage as you can at every moment that you can get it. I don’t think that that’s reasonable. I think that it’s much smarter to sort of keep some of your arrows in the quiver and don’t just shoot them out all at once. There’s also a common perception for people that at launch you should get everyone to write about you. I think it’s a mistake because if everybody does, if you get your way and everybody does happen to write about you at launch, in three months when you have another follow-along story to tell, a lot of those people are going to say to you, “Oh, I just wrote about you and unless it’s really, really huge news, oh, it’s just an update. I can’t really cover that.” And then you’ve got nothing, right? So you go from being on top of the world to getting nothing.
So the ideal situation is you launch and you’ve got a good buzz of coverage, a lot of stuff happening. But then some of the people who didn’t write then they follow on with articles and you build that drumbeat and you keep that cadence of conversation happening. I think you should be looking for ways to insert yourself into stories that are happening even when they aren’t about your company. If you can be quoted as an expert, if you can offer a resource to a reporter who sometimes won’t necessarily quote you either, it’s a really, really good thing for you to have that happen on a really regular basis. And that, again, is back to the issue of a time commitment. It’s going to take some of your time, and you have to be ready to offer that time without expecting an immediate return on that investment of your time. And that’s hard for a lot of people when they’re in the throes of building something from the beginning.
I think it is a forever play. I don’t think that it’s going to take your time as much and as intensely as it is going to during the beginning or right before a launch when you’re pre-briefing press and kind of going on that dog and pony roadshow to tell everybody what you’re doing. Much in the same way that you look at investment. So getting the right people to invest in your company kind of is a forever play, right? Even if down the line you IPO and you’re looking to kind of sell shares publicly, it is a forever play thinking about your investors. Just as it is thinking about your public and the media and those resources. But there will be heavier times and there will be lighter times throughout, and the more resources that you have the more you can hire somebody who you can trust internally to manage all of those things when that time comes the better. Because that person can help you manage those additional parties.
If you as the CEO are the only resource that can be the question answerer when it comes to PR forever and ever, then something has gone wrong. You need to have somebody else there. It doesn’t mean that you should cut yourself off from ever talking to your PR firm. I’m a fan of making sure that even as your company grows, your PR firm isn’t just kind of talking to this one resource whose then doing everything. That person might be their resource for getting questions answered, but your PR firm should have access to people on your sales team. They should have access to people on your product and engineering team. If they can’t get to know the ins and outs of your company, then you’re going to miss opportunities.
I remember hanging out with a company that we worked with for years, and it was always sort of like pulling teeth to get any good story to come out when working with the CEO who was great and was trying his best. But we would go and we would hang out with the product people for the weekend and we’d walk away being, “Oh, there’s this story and there’s this story.” And we’d go to the CEO and say, “Why didn’t you tell us about this?” And he’d say, “Oh, I didn’t think that would actually be interesting to anyone.” So sometimes giving your PR team, your PR person, whatever it might be, access to those parties within your company who are either natural storytellers or just really smart about what’s going on on the backend can uncover really great opportunities.