It’s been reported
that in Chicago a digital startup is launched roughly every 48 hours. Startup guru Paul Graham recently wrote
on this amazing growth: “That kind of change ... is the sort of big social shift that happens once every few generations.”
All these startups need customers. As Stanford entrepreneurship professor Steve Blank said
: “Most startups fail not because they lack for product, but because they lack for customers.” You can’t exactly run a successful Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana stand if no one is looking to buy bananas.
Well-placed PR can be invaluable for startups looking to reach an initial audience. It certainly doesn’t replace a sustainable marketing strategy, but it could be the initial difference between success and failure.
The thing is, startups are not traditional clients. Here are some tips for maintaining startup clients from my experience in hiring and firing PR firms.
1. Don’t oversell
Startups are about speed; entrepreneurs expect results quickly. They also don’t need front-page placements on The Wall Street Journal
. What relationships do you have now that lead to placements? Understanding this mindset will help build trust. Achieving results can take time, but you need to explain this up front. For many, this will be the first time they interact with the media.
2. Be a bridge
Make every effort to introduce entrepreneurs to your contacts, when it’s appropriate. I once had a call with a journalist and didn’t even get her email address; the PR firm acted as a shield. Keep the entrepreneur in the loop, and don’t be a barrier. Startup culture is founded on trust and transparency, so the old ways of doing things don’t mesh well with your new clients.
3. Rolodex v. 2.0
Anyone can create a database of journalists. Having real relationships and understanding when and how to pitch stories is what matters. Don’t inflate expectations by saying a story is “in the works” if you’re 99 percent sure it’s dead. Remember: Michael didn’t listen to George Sr., and I think we all know what happened to the money in the banana stand.
4. Long-term billing
If you believe in your ability to perform, consider charging a lesser amount for a trial period, as startups have minimal financial resources. If you meet your estimates, clients have every incentive to stay on. When building the first pitch and promotional materials, show startups how much value you can add by getting their long-term story right.
5. Social media fail
Startups are active on social networks. If you tweet “@justinbieber check out Startup X! They’re super hip!” to get “exposure,” you definitely don’t understand social media. Don’t be that guy. That guy doesn’t get invited places. Social media isn’t the be all and end all, but you can do yourself real damage if you don’t understand the basics.
[RELATED: Hear how top companies adapted to the digital PR industry changes at this August event.]
Startups need to be scrappy and agile, and entrepreneurs will flee if they feel they're being taken advantage of. Entrepreneurs stick together in their circles and will share negative experiences as well as positive ones. Treat them right, and it can pay dividends. Put another way: There’s always money in the banana stand. You just have to listen to get it.
Tyler Spalding is CEO and co-founder of StyleSeek, a curated shopping site based on personal style.