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This blog represents my own views, not those of my employer, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures.

Do not pitch me a story or book review for me to write about. This is my personal blog. For more info on that, see this post.

 

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PR for Startups: Avoiding crickets after the Ta-Da!

I've closed three investments in the first Brooklyn Bridge Ventures fund that haven't quite been made public yet, bringing the total to 13 companies.  These companies didn't announce their financings right away, and for good reason.  They're building up their PR plans to make the financing announcements part of a larger story arc.

Announcing your funding without a larger PR plan is the equivilant to George Costanza saying "I love you" to his date and not getting it returned--"that's a pretty big matzo ball" to leave hanging out there.  You'll drive all sorts of attention and it won't really wind up going anywhere if you don't create a context around it and build up structures to handle it.  

First off, you need to have a clear sense of your goals.  What do you want out of this announcement?  Is it to get on the radar of future investors?  Is it to get sales contacts or consumer awareness?  If your announcement has goals, you need to make sure you do what it takes to support those goals.

For example, if it's to get on the radar for future investors, use the investment announcement to plan a tour of future potential investors.  "Hey, we just raised (see link) and have over a year of runway, but we'd love to get a sense of where we need to be to get a next round from you and to start building a relationship."  VCs love meetings with interesting people when they don't need to say no.  

If you're looking for business development partners, is there a "Partner" section on your website, or a way to capture leads from all the attention?  Did you specifically state in the press that you were looking for partners?  What type?  

Are you looking to hire?  Who?  What makes a great employee?  Does the section about employment on your website just say "e-mail resumes to jobs@mystartup.com" or does it detail why your team is awesome and why anyone would want to work with them on this particular set of problems?

The biggest mistake I see companies do is fail to build follow up into their PR plans.  You launch to the public, announce a funding, and then what?  What's the PR going to say two weeks after that, and two weeks after that, and two weeks after that?

PR isn't a one shot deal--it's about constructing a story that will evolve over time.  You introduce the characters, you build an audience, unveil the right things to the right people, maintain their interest until you have something to sell, get customers, and leverage customer wins to establish position.  

That doesn't always mean public press, nor does it mean telling everything about your product.  Sometimes it means establishing founder credibility over time to prospective future investors or to potential employees.  Sometimes you don't want to telegraph to the competition what you're doing or how you're doing it, but, at the same time, you want customers to know who you are.  That's a small needle to thread--generating interest without suspicion, and it requires a clever storyteller.  

One way to do that is to talk about something else that isn't you or your product.  Perhaps you have an interesting building management technology.  Why not profile the most innovative buildings or the people who are behind modernizing the processes and infrastructure at famous addresses?   Make a whitepaper available on the topic of innovative technology in buildings, just to get the leads, without telling everyone what your business is upfront.  

I'd say that one of the biggest misunderstandings about the PR process is relationship building with reporters.  An introduction to a reporter could result in the best story ever about you--six months from now.  You need a long lead time to get someone in the media to care about you, so what are you doing for them in the meantime.  Are you doing a wearables company for women?  Maybe start curating a newsletter about tech that women love six months ahead of your launch--so that when you're ready with your product, thousands of people, including press, already care about what you care about and you've convinced them you're the authority.  

Here are five aspects of PR I feel like most startups need to do more of:

1) Fit all PR into a long term plan.  What do we tell about ourselves, to who, over time, and what is the goal--and when will we benefit from that goal.  Sometimes, you need a really long lead time, especially for things like future funding.

2) Establish the team as experts on the problem you're solving.  Educate the market by being the authority. 

3) A smaller list of deeper relationships.  Go out to lunch more, spam bloggers less.

4) Highlight your customers.  Shine the spotlight on others, and how awesome they are (thanks in a very small part to you.)  Get them to be your advocates by being theirs.

5) Give before you get.  The more you help a journalist out by being a source for expertise, stories, tips, the more likely they are to cover you in the future.  

 

And please, please, please don't pitch VCs who blog to write about your company as if we were tech journalists.

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