Startup PR Bootcamp: The 12-Step Training Regimen to Gain Press for Your Startup Launch
It’s 4am. You’re working tirelessly on perfecting your product, praying that you’ll live until your launch date – then, it’s easy street. In that moment, it’s easy to kick your PR prep to the curb, believing it to be an unimportant or secondary piece to the daily grind.
Don’t be lulled to sleep by that false sense of security. The “build-it-and-they-will-come” mentality is your worst enemy right now. Which means your PR pre-launch prep is an essential part of that startup hustle that will make you successful.
As so many experts (like those at VentureBeat) remind us, “Great products fail all the time because they never find their way in front of the public eye.”
And that’s a damn shame. But it doesn’t need to happen to you. And it won’t.
Why? Because starting with this post, you’re going to hammer down your PR targets, your pitch, your supporting materials, and your outreach calendar months in advance – as you’re beta testing and revising your product or service.
We’re going to help you nail your path to success. But we should warn you. There’s no quick fix or immediate results. You want to flex your PR muscles? You’ve got to do the work.
Your Startup Launch PR Training Regimen in 12 Steps
To make things easier we’ve broken down your PR training regimen into 12 steps that will prepare you for the marathon that is your startup launch.
4 Warm-Up Exercises You Can’t Skip:
You would never dive headfirst into running a marathon without a little warm up, would you? With that in mind, there are four things you should start well in advance of your launch day.
1. Know Your Story
Your story is not merely the benefits of your product – it’s your company’s ethos; its distinct flavor; its reason for being. If you haven’t already, invest in creating a strong startup story that speaks directly to your market. Keep in mind that your story needs to fit coherently into the broader narrative of your industry: what gaps and problems your product/service addresses, why you’re the best for the job, and prospects you’ve gotten traction with so far. Having a good understanding of your competitors (and how you’re different) is absolutely essential to creating a unique brand voice.
Pro Training Tip: You should also define who your primary storyteller is. For many startups, the story comes from the founder(s), who can succinctly and meaningfully explain the company’s purpose. Having a founder tell your story is a humble and effective way to get your message out there.
2. Identify Your Target Journalists
At an early stage in your PR prep you should define a list of target journalists to network with and reach out to down the road. You may start with a broad list of press publications like TechCrunch, but you need to eventually narrow this list down according to individual reporter. Each journalist within a publication will have their own niche area that they cover. These are the true advocates who are excited about your space and may have a vested interest in your story.
Pro Training Tip: Concentrate on a small list of relevant individuals to get the best traction. As Gleam usefully points out, “20% of your outreach will often yield 80% of the results, so it’s important to focus time in the right places.”
3. Invest in Relationships (Before You Need Them)
As we’ve stated before, this is our number one rule of PR: make friends before you need them. Once you’ve defined your list of target journalists, find out where they hang out (Twitter, LinkedIn discussions, events, online forums, etc.) and join the discussion. This is a great way to share relevant, non-promotional content and chat about the latest trends in your industry. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Stick to your niche and do it well – that’s how you will become a trusted authority in your field and make valuable connections.
Pro Training Tip: Think of a journalist as your customer – you want to focus on a long-term relationship, not the short-term sell. Your launch isn’t the only time you’ll need good contacts, so this is an ongoing exercise that you should be continually refining.
4. Choose a Launch Day, And Plan Accordingly
Your strategy, content, and key outreach dates will be orchestrated around your launch date. While this calendar will evolve over time, you need to have a strategic plan in writing so that everyone on your team is in the know.
Remember, your editorial calendar is more than just a list of dates. It should integrate your overall marketing strategy, allow for flexibility, real-time marketing opportunities, and account for major shifts in schedule. Your calendar should also be aligned with backend customer support (i.e. how will you handle sign ups and delivery, customer calls, tech issues, etc.) It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should be comprehensive and fully integrated.
Pro Training Tip: Research your launch date extensively. Make sure that it doesn’t coincide with any major holidays or commemorations. If an unexpected event does occur, it’s better to revise your date then to come off as insensitive.
8 Areas to Sculpt to Perfection
With your warm up complete, it’s time to flex some more specific muscles. Here are the eight we recommend you focus on sculpting:
1. Your Product
Having your technical ducks in a row is absolutely essential to a successful launch. You should do an internal evaluation of your product with your entire team and routinely encourage feedback – especially negative feedback. Failure to acknowledge the negatives about your product or service will only do more damage once you’re at the public’s mercy.
Pro Training Tip: If your product has not been through test rounds or is not performing well, you need to seriously consider revising your launch date. You only have one chance to launch, so if you have to push it back, push it back.
2. Your Tailored Pitch
Your pitch should be individually tailored to each journalist that you plan on reaching out to (remember, the journalist is your customer, and customers like personalized content). Start with your brand story and your list of target journalists, and come up with variations that are geared towards their individual interests. When you’re sculpting your tailored pitch, you should ask yourself:
- Is it relevant? Consider why this journalist would care about your story. Figure out if there is a way that you can relate your pitch to something the journalist is currently writing or is interested in.
- Is it brief? Journalists are busy and don’t have time to sift through a long and tedious background story. Get to the point.
- Is it newsworthy? If you want your launch to be in the news, you have to make it newsworthy. Unfortunately, your product launch isn’t inherently interesting to the journalist or general public. Find a unique and intriguing angle to frame your story based on each news source and person that you’re pitching to.
Pro Training Tip: If you’re reaching out to journalists via email, don’t slack off on the subject headline. This is your first opportunity to grab their attention and give them a reason to keep reading.
3. Your Free Offering
A great way to get early traction is to make it mutually beneficial for your potential buyers to check out your product or service. If there’s something that you can offer up for free (like a free side product, trial, e-book, etc.), by all means, do it. It will give your audience a taste of what’s coming and generate some buzz around your brand.
Many products that we’ve come to know and love offer a free, pared down version (like Wix, Buffer, and SketchUp Make to name a few). This is an extremely effective way to get people invested in your product. It’s also a good way to get the contact information of your prospective customers to start building a list of qualified leads. Once they’re hooked, they’ll see the value of the offering and will pay for it.
Pro Training Tip: Don’t offer a discount on your product or service unless you’re absolutely certain that it’s a sustainable option. As marketing expert Paul Finch points out, startups often mistakenly offer a discount on launch day without considering the additional sales needed to make that discount pay off. (That’s why we’ve suggested throwing in something for free on the side. This way you can add value without cutting key revenue.)
4. Your Network of Supporters
While it’s absolutely critical to reach out to journalists, it’s also important to leverage your network of supporters. Know who you can rely on to share your news on the big day.
As an easy warm up, get your personal network on board. Ask friends and family to post content for you on sites like Reddit and social bookmarking sites that won’t come off as promotional. Then, build outwards. Extend your reach to colleagues and their networks. Make it beneficial for them to be advocates for your company’s cause.
Each network of advocates should be aware of how they are connected to your story. That means crafting tailored messaging for these networks to make it as easy as possible for them to join you. Think of this preparation as your trusty ambassador launch kit. The more players you have intimately involved in your journey, the more meaningful your launch day will be.
Pro Training Tip: Don’t be afraid to reach out to social communities that you’ve built a relationship with. Think of Guy Kawasaki’s technique of crowdsourcing feedback and reviews for his book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. Kawasaki reached out to his volunteer editors (that he had crowdsourced months before) and asked them to write unbiased reviews on big sites like Amazon. The outcome? Over 40 five-star reviews on launch day from his community of volunteers. Now, your power and influence may not be that of Kawasaki’s, but you can apply the principle he used. Have faith in your network of supporters and don’t be afraid to ask.
5. Your One-of-a-Kind Media Kit
As we’ve discussed in our DIY media kit for startups, you need a kickass kit with supporting materials ready at-hand to send to journalists. The key here: make it easy for journalists to publish your story.
Your primary materials should include:
- Press release and/or video pitch
- 3-4 versions of your story (ready to be tailored)
Your supporting materials should include:
- High resolution photos of your office and team
- Videos, screenshots, or images of your product
- Screenshots of your website
- Founder names and short bios
- Company logo
Pro Training Tip: Always include relevant links and your full contact information in your outreach to journalists. It may sound simple, but it often gets overlooked.
6. Your Timing
There is no perfect science to timing, but you can get pretty close. Start building hype 3-4 weeks before your launch. Send out teasers. Give your outlet the news at least 5-7 business days before the launch. You’ll want to have time to pitch additional journalists if necessary.
It’s critical to keep the buzz going until launch day. Don’t follow in the footsteps of Google+: in its first month, Google+ acquired over 20 million users. Then they waited an additional three months to launch the product to the public. By then their audience had already lost interest. Talk about a buzz kill.
Pro Training Tip: If you’re concerned about getting media interest, consider offering your top outlet (in many cases this is TechCrunch) an exclusive. This will allow only them to cover the news on the launch day, but it could mean the difference between getting them and not getting them.
7. Your Real-Time Blog
Since you’ve got your primary and supporting pieces ready from your media kit, this should be a breeze. Write a fun and informative blog post that you can publish on the day of your launch.
Then, on launch day, keep a real-time list of the latest news on your blog. For example, if you’ve just gotten traction from an online publication, add a slick header to the top of the blog with a link to the news source.
Pro Training Tip: Your blog can also be a great teaser tool if you publish posts leading up to launch day. Get your audience excited with behind-the-scenes footage and updates on your blog.
8. Your Team, Amped up and Ready
Each team member should be given a specific role on the day of the launch, and should be made to feel like an integral part of the experience. And here’s why: every member of your team is a brand ambassador. They know your product or service intimately, and are responsible for enriching the experience of your customers. Leverage their own personal networks for the big day. As the Content Marketing Institute says, your employees are your most valuable assets to deliver a succinct and clear brand experience. Invest in them.
Pro Training Tip: Prep your team beforehand, and reward them after launch day. You all deserve it.
Stop Toiling in the Trenches and Kick-Start Your PR Bootcamp Today
Agile, effective pre-launch PR is a fantastic way to get early traction and adoption from your customers. Don’t be fooled, though: the work doesn’t stop after your launch is complete. But if you put yourself through the paces to have a successful product launch, it will make for a much smoother transition into your company’s long-term development.
And it will make all your hard work on your product or service worth it.
If you’re up for the challenge, we’ve got the next task ready for you. Enroll in our 6-week, 6-module training course to get the PR results you want by designing the Ultimate PR Machine for your startup today.
[Photo credit: Gratisography]