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Public Relations

PR for Tech Startups: A Guide

By Victoria Perlak

August 27, 2020

Companies who are thinking about PR for tech startups ask the same questions: “How do we know we’re ready for PR?” “How do we know we’ve chosen the right PR agency?” and “What should I expect from a tech PR agency?”. 

Every PR program requires a significant investment, so any company — especially tech startups — want to make sure it’s worth the time and resources. To answer all those burning questions on PR for tech startups, we’ve created this guide. We’re covering everything from knowing when your company is ready for PR to the results you should expect from your chosen PR agency.  

How to know if your tech startup is ready for PR

First things first, before you start looking for a PR firm — are you ready for PR? There’s no ‘right’ answer for this, it really depends on the company, but here are a few good indicators

How is it going to help your business?

Going into PR for the sake of press is not a good enough reason to invest in a  PR strategy. How will PR align with your business goals? Knowing specifically what you want to accomplish will help you to identify the correct PR firm for your tech startup and ensure your investment in PR is actually moving the needle for your business. If you don’t know why you’re looking for a PR firm other than wanting a Wall Street Journal feature, it would be worthwhile to figure out which business goals you’d like to support through tech PR before starting the process to hire a firm.

Are you in a position to benefit from PR?

Great, you know how you’d like PR to support your business! Do you have the infrastructure to support it? PR for tech startups isn’t right if your potential customers don’t have a next step to take, or if that next step isn’t ready to support new business. PR can do wonders for your business, but the full package needs to be there. For example, you want PR to drive customers from a new industry to your site, but your site isn’t ready to guide an amazing customer experience — or even worse, there’s no information about your new industry offering. While PR may drive these leads to your site, they won’t convert if they can’t learn more about your company and product. PR will open the floodgates and if you’re not ready to benefit from it, it’s better to hold off.

Do you have the budget for it?

You want to make sure you can invest in a full PR program, rather than a specific campaign. A campaign refers to pushing out one specific piece of news such as a product launch. Because you’re paying for a few months rather than a year, a campaign costs less. However, a few months of PR is not comparable to what a full program can do.

With a full program, a PR firm can thoroughly understand your business. So they will be able to help you through messaging and work towards achieving your business goals. There’s a strategy in place behind a PR program. The investment you put into your PR program — in time and money — will be what you get out of it. You don’t want to be the PR agency’s smallest client – you should be fully prepared to pay for PR. If you can’t invest enough into it, it may be better to hold off for now. Start a PR strategy when you can secure the results you want and your business needs.

Where are you in funding?

While this is not applicable to all companies, many are looking for PR firms after their Series B funding. Most companies in this stage have a solid product, have secured customers, and are ready to invest in marketing. This is not all tech startups by any means, but many we’ve seen and good to keep in mind.

What to look for in a tech PR agency

It is no easy task to look for a PR firm. You want to make sure they’re familiar with your industry, have a track record of results, and would work well with your team. You also want to make sure they’re an agency that is proactive and able to provide ideas everytime you speak with them.

As you go through vetting a PR agency, here are five questions you should be asking:

Ask them for scenarios where they’ve secured press for clients without any news.

The PR agency you work with should be able to secure press even when you don’t have hard hitting news like a funding round or a product launch. A top tech PR firm should have a record of filling a pipeline for past clients, even when they didn’t have news. They should also be able to use every opportunity to tell your startup’s story. For instance, a new hire announcement isn’t necessarily the hardest hitting news, but a PR firm should be able to turn that into a bigger story about, say, the company’s momentum and what’s to come from the company. Ask to see examples of press coverage like this.

Share a real life goal you’d like to accomplish, and ask how they would approach that.

What business goals are you looking for PR to support? What are some of the news items you’re looking to get out into the market? Ask the PR agency you’re interviewing how they would help support your business goals and get your news and messaging out into the market. Even if they haven’t been in a scenario like this before, or don’t know too much about your company, they should have ideas for you. For instance, maybe you’re launching a new product into a highly competitive market – how would they go about doing that? They should be able to give you some ideas on the spot.

Ask if the person you’re talking to will be on the account.

Many times, the person you’re talking with from a PR firm will not be your day-to-day if you choose that agency. Make sure you’re talking to the people that will spend the most time on your account. You want your account team to have experience in the market. You should have someone, an account manager, guiding strategy on the account day-to-day. Your account manager should be supported by other senior level and junior level employees.

Far too often, PR firms put junior-level employees to lead accounts, and they don’t have the market exposure or experience to get your business where it needs to be. Your PR team should have a mix of members — those that guide strategy and those that act on that strategy.

Have them share case studies of related clients.

What work have they done with other clients in your industry, and those with similar business goals to yours? You want to make sure they’re familiar with your industry. Your PR agency should demonstrate a proven track record achieving goals that are similar to yours. It’s not important to know if they have contacts at certain publications — they do — instead focus on their work with other clients. And if you want to learn even more, ask to speak with one of their current clients to get the inside scoop on how the agency works with its clients.

Ask how they go about setting goals.

This is extremely important, and far too often something many tech startups don’t consider. Goals should be more than just quantitative, far beyond just a number of press hits. They need to be qualitative goals that align with business goals, for instance, if you’re looking to expand your offering to a new industry like healthcare, getting into healthcare trades should be a goal that can then be quantitative (i.e. 5 press hits per quarter in healthcare trades). Ask the PR firm you’re speaking with how they set goals, these should be extremely specific for each client and more than securing a certain amount of press hits or writing a specific number of press releases.

What tech startups should expect from a PR agency

So, you chose your PR agency, if you thought finding a PR agency was a lot of work, now the real fun starts. But, all the onboarding and meetings are completely worth the results you will see in the end. Remember that while it is on the PR agency to garner results, you need to be the best partner you can be sharing as much as you can from the startup side so the firm can get the most from your program. 

Here are a few things you should expect from your PR firm:

An outpour of ideas:

Just as you were looking to PR firms for ideas during the vetting process, the firm you chose should still be constantly offering you ideas — proactively. Every time you speak with them, there should be some sort of creative idea discussed. Your PR firm should not look to you for ideas, very much the opposite. This is especially important when you don’t have hard hitting news – the team should be thinking about how to get you out into the market, without any news. For technology and public relations especially, creativity is of utmost importance because it will help you to stand out among your tech startup peers. Tech PR does not have to be — and should never be — boring!

Weekly meetings:

There will of course be emails and Slack messages sent across teams throughout the week, but there should be weekly check-ins with the PR team. You should never have to question what your PR team is working on or even what is being worked during the entire month. This also allows you to stay on top of goals and make sure everything your PR agency is working on aligns with your goals. They shouldn’t be suggesting PR opportunities “just because” — everything you do from a PR standpoint should be in support of your goals.

Your PR team should be your company’s filter, and you shouldn’t put any effort into throw-away opportunities that don’t offer anything to your tech startup. You should also consider bi-montly or quarterly meetings with executives to give the PR team a better look into the company from the top, and so executives can better understand what your internal team has been working on with PR.

Marketing and PR working closely together:

While PR teams aren’t directly part of your internal team, they’re an extension of your team and should be working with other departments just the same. Your PR agency should be working most closely with your marketing team, to better understand what they’re working on, some of which can be helpful in PR and some may not be. It’s also helpful to bring in the PR team earlier to marketing projects, as they can make sure the outcome is media friendly. For instance, for a benchmark report, they may think of certain ways to frame the report or stats to include that would result in the best coverage. 

Media coverage beyond tech publications:

One assumption many tech startups make is that they have to be in tech publications. But for many startups, tech isn’t their target audience because it’s not where their customers are. Your coverage should be directed towards the industries you’re looking for leads from. Your PR firm should be focusing on business and industry trade coverage, having you covered in publications your customers are reading and those industry trades where you need to be. Coverage in a tech publication is important in cases such as funding, or to gain validation from your peers, but you want to make sure your PR agency is exploring opportunities that put you directly in front of your customers.

Consistent press:

I’ll say it once (see: above) and I’ll say it again. Your PR team should be consistently securing your tech startup press even if you don’t have news. They should understand the industry well enough to know what trends you should be speaking on, and help to flesh out ideas on where the industry is going. Your company executives should be seen as thought leaders in the industry. Announcements — big or small – should share narratives about the startups’ story and its place in the industry rather than just reporting on news. And just because it’s consistent doesn’t mean quality lacks – every piece of press coverage should align with the company’s business goals.

It may take some initial time from the beginning of working with a PR agency as you need to align goals, secure messaging and ramp up press, but following that initial onboarding there should be no shortage of media coverage or ideas for press.

How to expand your traditional thinking of PR

Number one thing you want from your tech PR agency is results, no confusion there. But you want to make sure your PR firm can go beyond simply securing press. It’s very important that both you and your PR agency expand your idea of what technology and public relations is, because it will garner even more results. 

Here are some of the ways to think outside the box with PR:

Attend trade shows:

Trade shows are the perfect place to meet with customers – but also to meet with journalists. Tech trade shows are a must, but so are industry trade shows. For example, if you’re a retail tech startup, Retail’s Big Show: NRF should be on your calendar to attend every year. And this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a booth at the event (even though that’s helpful), but you can take the time at these shows to meet with other industry leaders and journalists that cover the industry. This is a great time to meet journalists in-person, make introductions, and start to build relationships. Phone interviews are great, but it’s even better to give them a name to a face.

Become a speaker:

rade shows also offer the opportunity for executives to speak. These opportunities are many times pay-for-play or require a customer to speak alongside executives of tech startups, but they put your company directly in front of your target audience. Speaking as a thought leader on an industry topic, or speaking with a current customer in front of potential customers could be worth the investment. Beyond just the big shows, consider smaller industry shows and conferences that are hyper-focused on your customers.

Write thought leadership articles:

Tech startup executives are the experts of your industry. They’re talking to customers everyday and are more aware of industry trends and the challenges companies are facing than anyone else. Having these executives write articles on what they’re seeing in the industry and what’s to come will position them as leaders in the industry and give them the ability to share their thoughts directly with those who need to hear it most. This in turn will also position the company as a leader in your industry.  

Host events:

This is a fantastic way to connect with current customers, potential customers and media. These can be weekend conferences held by your company, or even single day events. Gather customers and potential customers to discuss challenges they see in your specific industry and swap stories with each other to better their own programs. If possible, add media to the mix to listen in off-the-record or on-the-record if approved. And if the media can’t attend the event, share a recap of approved content they can use. Or host a media-specific event gathering media to listen in on moderated conversations between industry leaders. Between conferences, single-day events, roundtables and even just media dinners – there are tons of ways to host PR-worthy events.

Secure awards:

Industry awards give companies validation by some of the biggest groups and publications. Make sure the product and company awards you submit for showcase how your tech startup is a differentiator in the market, and for case study awards with customers share as many quantitative and qualitative results as possible. In addition to product and case study awards, culture awards can also be helpful in attracting talent.

Setting PR goals for tech startups

To make sure PR moves the needle for your tech startup, you need to make sure your business goals and PR goals align. Once you share your business goals with your PR agency, they should be able to help transform those into actionable PR goals.

Your PR firm should be asking you questions like “How does your tech startup want to be seen” and “How does your tech startup differentiate itself?” The questions will help identify PR goals, which in turn will guide PR tactics. For example, maybe you want your tech startup to be seen as a player in the financial industry with a brand new offering. To achieve this, PR will focus on securing coverage in financial publications, scheduling conversations with analysts that cover fintech and guiding you to financial trade shows and conferences. PR goals should not include a number of press hits, press releases or ad value, these goals are simply not helping tech startups achieve their business goals. And beyond goals part of your contract, your PR agency should proactively be setting ambitious goals for themselves.

The process starting from simply considering PR for tech startups to actually finding a firm, implementing PR and staying accountable for goals takes an incredible amount of time and resources. There’s no right way to go forth with the process, but this guide is meant to make it a bit easier and help identify what to look for and when to know you have the right PR firm and that you’re achieving the results you need to for your business. Once tech startups are ready, teaming with the right PR firm and building an effective strategy can help to achieve business goals and drive significant growth for your tech startup.

About Victoria Perlak

Victoria has worked with over 20 technology clients including Acxiom, Fujitsu, Bluecore and Embroker. Her favorite tech PR moment to date has been attending the Inmarsat-5 F4 launch by SpaceX.

Victoria is a Senior Account Supervisor and works with our clients to manage media relations strategy and outreach behind campaign launches and milestone announcements.

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