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5 Critical Mistakes Startups Make With PR

Jared Polites

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5 Critical Mistakes Startups Make With PR

For startups, public relations (PR) represents how a brand is seen by the public. Organic media coverage is one of the best ways startups can gain trust and facilitate new business. This includes interviews, featured articles, thought leadership pieces, and more. The problem is the art of getting coverage is complicated and often confusing for founders that would rather not deal with it. 

The importance of PR can’t be denied. 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement and 90% of B2B buying processes begin with an online search. Without a presence, startups risk losing business to competitors that have dedicated resources to PR. 

Since 2017, I have been lucky to provide marketing and PR services to over 100 clients. Through this experience, I have seen many mistakes made by founders, including business partners. The following list touches on five of the most common issues startups make when thinking about PR and some solutions to help.

1. Choosing a Cheap Provider 

There is an old saying that if it is too good to be true, it likely is. In the PR world, this is especially true as providers will sell clients on something that they know they can’t deliver. This causes a situation where clients are either up-sold or offered smaller publications as a replacement. 

Additionally, cheap providers often outsource content to writers that are not native English speakers in order to save costs. This can lead to published articles with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Most of these errors can’t be redacted once an article is live so it is important to go live with a polished copy. 

The best rule of thumb is to engage slowly with a new provider and create a scenario where you either pay upon delivery or have some kind of guarantee attached to the contract. This will help manage expectations and quality control.

2. Overthinking Content 

The truth is most people and journalists will only skim your news, especially as the prominence of mobile browsing increases. In 2018, mobile overtook web browsing globally with 52% of all web traffic served. This experience is much more fragmented, leading readers to skim more leading to higher bounce rates. 

I always use this example. If you come across an article in Forbes on your phone that mentions a few companies, what would you do? Most of the time, you would likely skim the article and maybe click a company link if it’s really compelling. If you do, you are likely faced with a call to action such as registering, downloading something, or entering your email. Most activities outside of email submissions will not be mobile convenient. 

This is how PR loses potential customers upon the first interaction. The goal of your content should be to convey your main message in the headline and the first few opening paragraphs. Everything else can be seen as a bonus in case the reader is really interested in learning more. You then use this touchpoint to retarget those readers later with other marketing strategies.

3. Expecting Immediate Conversions 

One of the biggest mistakes founders make is expecting immediate conversions with PR placements.  PR is only one pillar of a good marketing strategy. It takes time and consistency and works best when done in conjunction with other marketing activities. 

The good news is that PR placements have a compounding effect where link-building, SEO, and social media are strengthened as more publicity is made. Startups should look for consistency in their outreach and placements while remaining patient with results. All it takes is one Google search or article being shared to convert a new investor or client.

4. Signing Retainers

Retainers work for the top 5% of companies that need “big” PR firms that still deal with traditional engagements. The issue with retainers is that there is often an onboarding period that requires one to two months to get ramped up. Unfortunately, you have to pay for this and will likely not see any real deliverables until fully on-boarded. 

Second, retainers tend to have vague deliverables and KPIs attached. Most of it is fluff work, such as building a media kit and press release drafting. Did I mention the costs? Top firms will require anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 per month for a retainer. 

This equates to three or four full-time staff members that you could hire instead. My personal recommendation is to seek out smaller shops, or freelancers that can deliver. Get clear deliverables and expedited priority. Not only will you pay less, but you will also get immediate results and save a ton of time.

5. Not Maximizing PR Placements

I often see startups get a PR placement, publish it on social media once, and then forget about it. This is obviously not the right approach. After getting a solid PR placement, it should be a team effort to maximize its impact. This can be done by using logos on your website, in email signatures, pitch decks, social media, newsletters, etc.

Simply put an “as seen in” tag next to a logo or article link and that will create immediate social proof. This strategy is a completely fair game as long as you always link the placement you claim to have. I have come across some companies that claim big named publications that don’t exist. This is the quickest way to kill your credibility and is something that can be fact-checked in just a few minutes. 

Jared is a Venture Partner at 7BC, an early-stage VC firm, and a partner at LaunchTeam, a strategic consultancy and agency that connects experts with companies to facilitate growth. Since 2017, the companies Jared has worked with have raised over $500 million in traditional venture capital and crowdfunding. In a previous life, Jared was an Intelligence Analyst at the FBI.

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