Toolkit: Take These Expert Tips Before You Invest in PR
Aimée Eichelberger is an entrepreneur collaborating with entrepreneurs. As founder and CEO of Superior Public Relations, (SPR) Aimée has dedicated her career to successfully developing and executing strategic PR programs for companies in a variety of industries, with a particular focus on advanced technology businesses.
In this Q&A with Rev1, Aimée offers practical tips to entrepreneurs seeking to learn more about creating the right public relations strategy at the right time.
AB: Did you imagine when you started up Superior Public Relations as a solo entrepreneur that you would build the business you have today—a company with a team of seasoned PR professionals who work with dozens of emerging technology startups and large consumer brands?
AE: I founded Superior PR for two reasons. First, I wanted to get back to the PR of PR—storyline development, media relations, strategic planning, and more. As I moved up in other agencies, there was less of the hands-on client work, and it’s the work I really love. Second, I wanted the freedom and flexibility to work with compelling companies and disruptive technologies, and not be hindered by a budget that was out of reach for a growing company.
I’m not sure I imagined where Superior PR would be 10 years ago, but I was confident that by combining my approach to PR with the experience I had gained (successes and skinned knees) in senior-level positions in top marketing firms from California to Chicago, I could help other entrepreneurs achieve their business success. I didn’t imagine “quite” how challenging entrepreneurship can be. But now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
AB: What’s the first thing a startup needs to understand about PR and what are first steps?
AE: PR is about building the right foundation, creating momentum, and sustaining it to keep audiences and the media engaged and interested. It starts by building trust with those audiences. Some audiences are made up of people you know; many of them aren’t.
To prepare, SPR asks new clients to describe their culture and values. What do they stand for? How do they do business? What are their customers or suppliers saying about them—publicly, in surveys, behind closed doors? When it comes to PR, interested companies that walk the talk are ready to consider the next step. However, if a company has a damaged reputation or a culture where character and quality are not as important as sales— those issues need to be addressed first. The world’s most brilliantly crafted PR plan cannot build a reputation that isn’t real.
AB: You advise early-stage companies to get hands-on experience before they hire a marketing or PR agency.
AE: Actually, no matter what size the company, I recommend hands-on experience first—that’s especially true for startups. Most founders in emerging technology startups just don’t have much (if any) prior exposure to PR. Those founders wouldn’t think of hiring a contract manufacturing firm without some knowledge of processes and materials. It’s the same thought process for PR.
I tell entrepreneurs to think about PR the same way they think about finance, human relations, legal, or any other corporate function. The new company needs these functions from day one.
However, until a startup has paying customers and investment capital, all expenses must be prioritized—especially those that don’t directly accelerate early customers or product prototypes. Realistically, legal and finance will come ahead of PR, but that doesn’t mean that founders can’t put some sweat equity into developing their expertise that when there is a budget to invest in market development or branding, founders and leaders are more educated about the needs and the kind of hired PR expertise that is appropriate to the company.
AB: How can an early-stage entrepreneur with limited bandwidth and even less capital can start learning about how PR works.
AE: Start with your business goals. From sales, to funding, to partnerships or recruitment, to be most effective, PR should map to your business goals. Blindly driving coverage without alignment around the company strategy won’t be worth the investment. You won’t achieve the results you want.
Next, identify your audiences. The market validation process in Rev1’s learning labs dovetails perfectly. Start at a high level; Drill down and make a list more detailed and nuanced over time as you learn from needs surveys, customer calls, and trade show participation. Here’s a start: Customers, investors, industry pundits, industry publications, local businesspeople, universities, and research institutions.
Make it easy for the media to tell your story. Writers and reporters are always looking for interesting angles. Perfect elevator speech for the press. Learn to make yours compelling. Memorize data points and statistics. If you offer early customers favorable terms, get their agreement to join you in an interview or participate in an article. Quotes from outside your business are more creditable than talking about yourself. Tell people what you can do, not what you wish you could do. When your startup starts gaining media traction, you don’t want to drive prospects and partners to an irrelevant or out-of-date message.
Become a recognized expert source. With the internet, there are abundant opportunities to write about what you know. You can start small. If you have a website, write and post a blog or two a month. Call your university and offer to guest-speak to the entrepreneurs’ club. Volunteer to participate in panel discussions or roundtables at industry events. Seek out organizations and media opportunities in communities that are underrepresented in entrepreneurship. You may find an unexpected talent source.
The benefits of engaging broadly as an expert are many. You will learn to tell your company’s story from different angles to diverse audiences. You will sharpen your personal communications skills. You will build firsthand knowledge of what it takes and what it means when a PR professional gets your company mentioned in The Wall Street Journalor Inc. That is PR that money can’t buy. And a last point that should be first—sharpen up your LinkedIn profile and keep it current. It’s a great place to post and link to your writing pieces and a great opportunity to post about the events in which you participate.
Your LinkedIn can be the start of a cost-effective and experimental social media plan. Hire an intern. Rev1 can tell you about great experiences that portfolio companies have had in social media with interns through the Innovation Internship Program. Repurpose content. There is a certain freedom in social messaging. You can be a little more human with humility. People do like to laugh.
AB: Let’s say the co-founders of a young company followed your suggestions. In startup parlance, they have “bootstrapped” their PR initiatives for a couple of years. They are post-revenue with a market development budget from a Series A round. Now what?
AE: That’s the time to start assessing the rightness of hiring a PR professional. Expect the hiring and evaluation process to take six months. Ask other entrepreneurs, mentors, and advisors how they handle PR. If they use a marketing or branding firm, ask what (and who) they like and what (and who) they don’t. Ask scaling startups how they prepared themselves for their PR hiring process. What would they repeat? Would they do differently? Ask about budgets and contract lengths. Ask about surprises, good and bad.
AB: Mentioning surprises, would you bust a few PR myths?
- Myth: PR is not a faucet you can turn on and off. To maximize PR, a company needs a continuous drip. It is ineffective to distribute one press release and neglect to follow through with additional communications. Until a startup has the budget to commit to a sustainable PR program, think about investing in PR efforts in other ways.
- Myth: A press release is not I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with entrepreneurs who think that a one-off press release will establish a brand, attract customers or investors, or engage writers or media influencers. It doesn’t work that way.
- Myth: Not just anyone can write and distribute a press release. Effective releases are written by experts in a specific format, in a particular way. This is not the job for a summer intern. Media distribution lists must be strategic and vetted. The story must be developed in the right way with an object that aligns with the company’s overall business and communications strategy.
- Myth: PR expertise is too expensive for startups. Full-featured PR agreements are typically multi-quarter and four figures per month. However, startup support organizations, such as Rev1’s investor startup studio or accelerator initiatives, may engage strategic partners to provide targeted PR services or tutorials over Zoom on a limited basis.
- Myth: A reporter can be your friend. I will just say this. There is no such thing as “off the record.” Don’t share anything you wouldn’t want to see in a tweet or on a billboard. Beyond that, your best friend will still not cover a story that is not compelling and complete, so partnering with good storytellers is paramount to the success of PR.
AB: Thanks! Will you come back for a part 2?
AE: Any time.
Superior Public Relations (SPR) provides strategic communications for growing businesses. We approach your business with passion and persistence to deliver superior results. Services include strategic communications plans, messaging workshop, media relations, executive media training, analyst/influencer relations, and content development.