Marketing Your Startup

with Alice Lankester

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Laser focus your marketing and PR

Alice Lankester

Startup Marketing Executive, Silicon Valley Veteran, Entrepreneur Enthusiast

Lessons Learned

Drill down into your first target users, create some success, and then move on to the next group.

PR firms, like supermodels, do not get out of bed for less than $10-15k a month.

Technology publications do not write about products, rather trends & behavior.


Lesson: Marketing Your Startup with Alice Lankester

Step #2 Sniper: Laser focus your marketing and PR

There's a story I like to tell. When I was working with PR at Photobucket I wanted to get stories in the paper and the press in 2006 that would be read by Rupert Murdoch, because Rupert Murdoch was the head of News Corporation and Fox Interactive Media was an acquisition target for the company. It turned out that we could do some fairly careful analysis about what he reads, we could figure it out, and we got a story that he read and that directly led to the acquisition.

So that was the most sniper-y rifle story thing I could think of. So that's when you really take it to the point where I want to find this particular individual, but you can broaden that because you can say, "I sort of guess or do some fairly educated analysis of what I think Rupert Murdoch is reading." But if you know who your customers are you can do some fairly good analysis of where you think they're hanging out and people like them are hanging. I would say for startups you have to focus in a pretty laser-like manner on an initial cohort of users that you think are going to be successful. So you could try going extremely horizontal and you'll end up doing nothing very well.

But if you have a general feel that you're going to be appealing to entrepreneurs in the western United States who went to any of the UC schools and who are of certain examples, for example, then there are places you can find them; through an alumni organization or through LinkedIn groups or through logs that are written by people, academics that they were talking to, people who are influential in their field. It's possible to find them through those kinds of methods. I think that really works, is to be really focused on who you think is your most successful audience and drill down really hard on those and then do what's successful and move on to the next group. I would recommend people get pretty specific about who they're after and really try and understand those customers and where they hang out.

Startup companies want to get some press and they want to get in PR and they want to get into the Wall Street Journal and what do they do? So lots of things to say about that. PR, generally it's just a fantastic topic and I love talking about it, and I'm often heard to say that it's really hard to measure PR because you know you've had a success when the CEO of the company reads about themselves, and that's a really rotten way to judge it. But if somebody on the board reads about it, they say, "Wow, you're doing a great job. I read about you in Digit's Blog or whatever." And you say, "Great. I'm successful because one of my board members read about it," and that's just the way it works.

So should I hire a PR firm or should I do it myself? The first thing you should know is that PR firms, like supermodels, don't get out of bed or don't show up for less than $10,000 to $15,000 a month. So be prepared for that going in. The other thing about PR firms is beware the bait and switch. You will go in and they will lure you with their best talent and their top executives and you'll say, "Great. These guys so understand what I do and I'm now I'm going to sign you up on a month-to-month, 15,000 a month for the year, and we're going to do great stuff."

You go to the first meeting and you get the straight-out-of-school intern working on your account. You say, "What happened to all the smart people that you said you were going to put on my account? And suddenly on a day-to-day basis I'm talking to somebody who knows nothing about what I do." So just be careful about that. I found better success with small boutique agencies where I worked with the senior people and I like that.

PR agencies are only as good as the person in the house is managing them. You can wind them up and send them off down the table, they'll go off down the table, but you'd better tell them where they're going. You'd better tell them, "This is my ideal headline in this particular publication on this particular subject." Give them as much specificity as possible and they will work better to that. Tell the story. You have a story to tell and your story is what they want to write about.

Gone are the days when technology blogs and publications write about products. They don't write about products. They may write about products when they talk about Facebook, but really we're not all in that game, we have products. They talk about trends, they talk about changes in behavior, they talk about data, they talk about Marissa Mayer falling asleep instead of going to meeting in Cannes. They talk about gossip and they talk about trends.

Be prepared with a story and be prepared to say why now, why is your story interesting now, what's special that happened. Have you ever been able to do this before? Maybe, maybe not. Why now? Tell them why this is important today, Wednesday. Why is it important today, not just why is it important this year. It could be that some earnings report has shown that mobile traffic at Facebook has now surpassed desktop traffic and you have a mobile app and this is the reason for it and this is the trend and this report from Forrester just came out that proved this thing and this is why we're in this business. Obama was heard to say this and that's why.

Why now is really important, so find some hook in the why now and give your PR agency that why now. I mean good ones will be able to help you with this and there are absolutely great ones out there, and I've worked with some great ones and I've worked with some rubbish ones. There are some great ones that will tell you something you don't know, mostly you're going to have to tell them what you know.

So tell them why now, what your story is, why it's interesting. Find some breakout thing like, "This just happened. This customer just did this really incredible thing. I'm going to call my PR agency. Is there a story about it?" Help them to get you to write ghost articles about if you want to your thought leadership stuff. So they can spend a lot of your money, make sure they spend it on the right stuff and make sure they're in the publications that you're after. If you want to go after David Pogue put them on David Pogue for $15,000 a month and your only goal is to get Pogue to write about you, that's great. Just give them that job to do and make it really specific.

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