PR Essentials for Early-Stage Startups
BUILD A SOLID ONLINE PRESENCE. When someone googles your company name they should find at least several pages you control on the first page of search results. This is much easier than most people think. First of all make sure that your own website URL has been submitted to the top search engines. For example, you can submit a URL to Google using this Webmaster Tools page. When that's done create profiles in the name of your company on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on. These will rank highly in Google searches and give a satisfyingly solid presence. (For more about this see How to Get Impressive Search Results for your Startup). If your company name is ungoogleable then think again about that name. You might think it is funny to have a name that consists of strange characters but if Google can't find you nobody can. (For more about this see Branding in the Age of Search Engines).
MAKE SURE CONTACT INFO IS EASY TO FIND. You are much more likely to get coverage in blogs and media if journalists can contact you. It is extremely rare that someone has to write about a specific company. When I write about startups usually I am writing about a theme and I contact many companies in that space; if one is hard to contact I just look somewhere else. You should have at least an email address and a phone number; a form is not acceptable. Don't worry about spam -- that can be easily filtered -- and don't worry about too many people calling your phone number. You wish! It's much more likely that nobody calls. To be especially media friendly it is better to have a separate "media" or "press" contact even if it is just redirected to your other account. And if you really want to make media happy put a real human name on the contact. I'd feel much more inclined to talk to "Abigail Grundy, Founder" than "firstname.lastname@example.org"
ANSWER MEDIA ENQUIRIES PROMPTLY. When you do get an enquiry from a journalist or blogger you should send a quick reply as soon as possible to show that you received the message and that you plan to reply. If you want to look even more professional ask when the deadline is and then respect it. Journalists typically work to inflexible deadlines and if you are late you simply won't be mentioned. Very often companies get into articles simply by providing an answer in time. Failing to confirm that you received the query can also mean that you are left out. If I reach out and there is no response I just move to the next one in my list.
USE YOUR NETWORK. Forget press releases, media alerts and press kits at the very beginning. Your time is much better spent working your network to get the word out. Make sure that everyone in your network knows what you are doing and make sure that they know what you are looking for. At the same time grow your network all the time, adding friends, family, mentors, bloggers, journalists and anyone else in the business. Build trust with these people, too, by being helpful, both reacting to their questions and reaching out proactively. (For more about this see: Three Keys to Networking). You can also push updates to your social media using tools like Hootsuite, but I would not recommend any more automation than that (for reasons why see When Bot Talks to Bot).
MONITOR SOCIAL MEDIA. Like many people I always talk about the articles I am writing on Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus and LinkedIn. In many cases I even ask explicitly if anyone has anything to say about the subject. Some savvy companies monitor social media -- especially Twitter -- for keywords related to their business then reach out to me if they feel that they have something that might be good fit. Sometimes it is and this proactive effort gets them a mention. This takes very little effort because you can do it with preset searches and alerts. (For more about this see Three Social Media Hacks to Find Media Opportunities).
You can do all of this even while you are at the kitchen table stage and all the way up to the point where you need professional help. And when you do need that help you should start first with a freelancer who has worked with other founders you know. Later when your startup has reached a critical size you will probably want to move to a PR agency but by the time you get to that stage you will have a full-time communication director and he or she will know enough to take care of that choice.
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