Five Things Tech Startups Should Know About PR

A video still from the panel discussion "Demystifying PR for Startups"

Technology company incubator Dogpatch Labs recently hosted an event in New York called “Demystifying PR for Startups.” It was fun to attend and hear in-the-trenches stories from varying viewpoints: journalists, PR agency executives, in-house marketers, and tech entrepreneurs.

The panel consisted of Dave Ambrose co-organizer of Hackers and Founders; James Moran and Vin Vacanti, founders at Yipit; Ben Kessler, director of communications at SeatGeek; Jordan Goldman, founder at Unigo; Nick Saint, reporter, Business Insider; Erica Swallow, Assistant Editor, Mashable; Devindra Hardawar, lead mobile writer, VentureBeat; and Adam Isserlis, director of digital media at Rubenstein Communications.

While the panel was definitely informative, many of the same questions and misconceptions were tossed around. Here is perhaps the best example:

For those of you who have been to a tech meet up or conference where startups demo their product or service, the most popular and first question often asked is, “What is your business model?” or “How do you make money?”

Meanwhile, the most popular question at any tech PR event is, “How do I get on TechCrunch?” or Mashable, etc. Of course, there is no easy answer to that question. Just like there is no easy answer to the question, “How did you get your company funded?”

The only guaranteed way to get on TechCruch is to buy an ad.

Let’s expand on this thought and outline five things startups need to know about PR that were discussed at the Dogpatch Labs event and many others.

PR Is Not Just Publicity

Tech entrepreneurs, and many others equate PR to “get me press.” Certainly that is a big, and valuable, part of what a PR agency or internal PR person can do for your company. However, what most startups overlook is that strategy and digging deep into questions like, “Why do I need press, what will I do with it, and what are the business goals?” is more important. It’s said too often but the question “What are your business goals?” is crucial and entrepreneurs should be thinking about that and then mapping back to how PR can help them achieve those goals as opposed to just thinking, “I need to be on TechCrunch.” Adam Isserlis, of Rubenstein perhaps said it best: “The idea of PR is of an accelerant. It helps get you were your going but it won’t get you there by itself.”

You Should Not Always Speak to the Press About Your Direct Competitors

This is a fascination of startups that are competing against many other very similar companies. Lets take group text messaging service Fast Society, for example. The company was just featured in a Business Insider story with the headline, “Your Competitor Is Stealing All The Spotlight — Here Are 5 Ways To Take It Back.” The entire premise of the story was that another better funded and established startup, GroupMe, has been getting more attention than them and how Fast Society plans to combat that.

Why would Fast Society spend time on this interview? It’s super insider-y, and I’d argue Fast Society’s time would be better served conducting marketing that will actually help them grow their user base, instead of spending time in an interview where they named their competitor about 20 times and talked about insider-y competition stuff that is maybe interesting to the tech entrepreneur crowd but likely does little to help Fast Society. Are there certain instances where should mention a direct competitor? Absolutely. Tons of them. However, when you’re a startup in a competitive space, you should be careful not to over focus on wanting to “get back” at a competitor in the press, and instead focus on highlighting your own successes and innovations.

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