How to Run Startup PR Like an Election Campaign

Campaigns, conventional or not, are highly motivated and energetic storytelling machines.  They come up with a narrative, figure out who they want to get it in front of, and work like all hell every single minute to get it out there.

That's the kind of pace a startup needs to be on--except that most startups treat their PR as if all you need to do is to launch your message at a debate and cross your fingers after that.

Here are five things startup founders can take away from the way campaigns work:

1) Campaigns have a message.

And it's not only "Vote for my candidate".  It's more complex than that.  Sometimes they want you to believe the economy is good or job creation is sluggish or we're at war with terrorism or values or crumbling or whatever.  There are other things they know will get you to cast a vote your way if you believe.  So, maybe some of your campaign is about having the best computer vision team or being smart about retail distribution--or that cars will drive themselves one day.  Whatever the underlying supportive arguments those are, startups need to layer them on top of each other to support the key things you need--sales, funding, hiring, etc.

2) Campaigns work on a schedule.

First we're going to go to this state and say this to this audience, then we're going to that state and then we're going to hit up this talk show.  Campaigns are about editorial logistics.  Who are we telling today's message to and where?  

So many startups but all their eggs in one basket--the launch--but fail to create anything that looks like an editorial schedule that thinks about opportunities to share your message over time.  What conferences should we be asking to speak at over time?  What events should we run ourselves?  When will we write this blog post.

Without a schedule and a plan, you're just a lunatic with a Twitter account shouting at everyone.

3) Campaigns win influencers.

They get endorsements.  Teachers unions, former Presidents, celebs--who can influence votes and tell everyone else to vote for us.

This way, you have an answer to "Says who?"

Startups should be doing the same thing.  Everyone should have a list of 25-50 people or groups that would be key endorsers.  It's one thing for someone to say they bought your product, but if you can get them on message, talking about you in their own blog posts or interviews, that's ideal. 

You can just e-mail around and ask, but the most surefire way to do this is the old fashioned power lunch/power smoothie/office visit--i.e. time spent face to face.  It's slow and it's plodding, but if you can sit with someone and convince them to get behind what you're doing, they're going to feel more special, more invested, and you'll get more of your message across, versus just asking for a Retweet.

4) Campaigns are tenacious.  

Polls may only come out weekly, but campaigns act as if every single day is a battle in the war for human attention.  The moment a story comes out, the candidate spin machine is all over it.  They never miss an opportunity to have their people commenting on TV or in the news and that's the pace your message needs to be closer to.

Every single time a piece of press comes out about your space and you're not mentioned in it is a missed opportunity--and you better be all over that reporter, fixing that mistake, inviting them to see what you have going on, etc.

5) Campaigns run events.

If you can't find enough opportunities to share your message, you need to create some of your own.  Hosting discussions, demos, dinners will be well worth the cost if you can get the right people there and in numbers--or if you can create content out of it.

Bonus:

Is it not obvious that video is the killer medium this year?  How much video is your startup creating?  Seems to be working for the candidates this year, isn't it?  Every single underemployed video creator is a startup missing an opportunity.