Why Pumpkin Spice and All Things Basic Don’t Belong in your PR Strategy
Summer no sooner leaves us and everyone, their dog, and their brands sniffing the air for that sweet scent we associate with fall. And no, I’m not referring to the cold air or crisp leaves. I’m talking about the arrival of fall’s most beloved - or hated, depending on who you ask - trend.
The pumpkin spice. The most basic spice of the whole family of spices.
You either love it or you hate it, but it seems that every product is cashing in on the pumpkin spice phenomenon by launching their own scented or flavored product. And while maybe that works for the Starbucks’ of the world, it’s not the strategy you want for your PR campaign.
Your PR Strategy is Facing More Scrutiny Than Ever Before
Whether you realize it or not, every PR strategy that’s created today will face far more scrutiny than those behind it. Especially if it’s similar to something done before. Things like, “Well is it better than the last cloud product for small businesses?” or “How does this funding announcement compare to others in the industry?” You think you’ve got something really great to share with the world and then BAM - suddenly, 99% of us aren’t good enough.
This is particularly true when it comes to your PR hooks. Now more than ever, you are competing with every other news hook, product launch, company announcement, etc. landing in a journalist’s inbox. And then on top of that, you’re competing with what lands in their tips email, because something from there could very easily end up on their to-do list. Lastly, you’re up against what their boss thinks is newsworthy that day.
I’ve witnessed it happen more often than not. Even with a great story or nicely done raise, a journalist has had to bump my client’s news for something Google or Facebook did that day, assigned to them by their editors.
Yes. It really can happen that easily.
The Case for Being Basic
Basic: An adjective used to describe any person, place, activity involving obscenely obvious behavior, dress, action.
Society really loves to hate the basics of the world, but why? For starters, it’s because they’re all incredibly predictable. And sometimes, that works, as we’ve all witnessed with the success of everyone launching pumpkin spiced something. And in reality, sometimes you’ve got nothing else to fall back on.
The first thing I ask startups before we work together is -- do you have any news or announcements coming up? This will immediately tell me what I’ve got to work with and if I’m going to have to do some major creative brainstorming to come up with something juicy to get them the media they deserve.
Here are a few examples of the usual basic suspects and how to avoid falling victim to the temptation to go pumpkin spice.
The Funding Announcement
I remember the days when half a million or a $1M raise was enough to draw the attention of TechCrunch. The problem is, nowadays, these are far too common and when they do happen, you really have to fight hard to get the coverage the founders deserve. Because after all, we know they busted their bums to secure that financing. However, without a number high enough to go up against any other raises that day or week, these announcements may get lost in a haze of basic.
The Anti-Pumpkin Spice Strategy: The tricky thing about funding announcements, is that they’re typically kept super top secret until they happen. So gauging what other announcements will be pitched the same day, week, or month of yours is tricky. There are two things you can do:
- Wait and Bundle: If your raise is modest and you know that there’s more funding on the way, be patient and wait to announce a series of raises. It gets your number higher and improves the odds that you’ll have fighting power if you’re up against some substantial dollars raised by other startups.
- Take risks, have a backup plan: You’ll never know until you try and your $1M may just make the cut on a slower news week. If it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board and build one or two really great company centric pitches sharing your founder story or how you’ve gotten to where you are today. Then, at the end of the pitch, include the funding announcement as one of the hooks to the story. It removes the timeliness but still gives you the opportunity to score some great media coverage.
The Product Launch
Yes, the coming out party. These are perhaps the most fun and most challenging PR strategies to tackle. Of course, launching a product in itself is pretty freaking amazing. You created something and now you’re releasing it to the world. It’s your baby and YOU made it. But just like humans and animals give birth to babies every day, and it’s amazing and special, and life changing — there are other founders out there birthing products. The reality is, the product launch is the most basic PR announcement there is.
The Anti-Pumpkin Spice Strategy: Avoid the temptation to go big or go home. Unless your idea is simply going to blow everyone’s mind (and don’t say - it’s the next Facebook) journalists will want proof of traction before they agree to cover you. And proof of traction requires users. And these users must be more than just your mom, dad, grandma, best friends, and their best friends. Your product needs to explode.
Start by rolling your product out below the radar (yes, avoid the temptation of pitching the media just yet) in select cities. In lieu of a major media push, do a major influencer push instead by identifying 50-100 people in each city that are your ideal users. Reach out to every single one of them to tell them about your product and why you’d be honored to have them try it out. Do this in enough major cities (Uber did this incredibly well) and soon, you’ll be well on your way to having the traction you need to really go after the media.
Who doesn’t love a great rebrand? They’re fresh, they’re fun, they’re usually a major one-up from the previous really great product. Or in some cases, they’re a completely revamped, better functioning version of a product that wasn’t really there yet. Either way, pitching a rebrand can be hit or miss, again, depending on what else is happening in the news that week. The basic rebrand typically involves drafting a really great “Hey - we’re now << insert way cooler new name >> and we’re ready to rumble.” It’s distributed to all of the major technology and business outlets, as well as niche publications, and then one of two things happens: it’s covered or it’s not covered.
The Anti-Pumpkin Spice Strategy: If the above seems like a colossal amount of work all for something that may or may not work out (by no fault of your own, I might add) — you may be wondering how you can be proactive to ensure your rebrand doesn’t fizzle. Let me tell you, it starts by eliminating vanity from the equation.
Step One: Draft that press release, but don’t put all of your blood, sweat, and tears into it. Keep it short and sweet, focus on the new brand, why you did it, and what’s next. Don’t focus on all the things that you did wrong with the last brand. Fast and steady wins the race here.
Step Two: DO focus your energy and inject blood, sweat, and tears on a really epic op-ed by your founder or VP of Marketing on why you rebranded. This, my friend, holds more weight than any press release you will write. With this, you have two options. You can pitch it to a media publication or two of your choice to be published on the day of your rebrand exclusively OR you can publish it on the company blog or Medium. A great example is our friends at Alongside (formerly Qimple) who just announced their new name via BetaKit in a fantastic op-ed by the founder, Yves Boudreau.
Step Three: Go ahead. Pitch the media. But do stay focused on the ones that will matter and the ones read by your users. While TechCrunch announcing your rebrand would be nice, every founder knows at the end of the day it’s a vanity win and while vanity is nice, wouldn’t you rather celebrate where your community is found? A great starting place is what publications have covered and written about your company in the past. If that includes TechCrunch, definitely don’t eliminate it. But start with these familiar outlets and only move on to new territory when you’ve made sure loyal journalists have all heard your news.
The Argument for Anti-Pumpkin Spice
I’d like to stress than when it comes to PR (or your choice to wear Uggs and drink pumpkin spice lattes) there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being basic. Sometimes, it will work for you. The only risk you face, especially when it comes to PR, is that by doing what everyone else is doing, your odds of standing out to journalists drops significantly. And isn’t the whole point of PR to get noticed?
The pumpkin spice tastes great, but being original tastes even better.