Over many years of providing PR services to start-up companies, I’ve noticed a lot of the same very basic marketing and communications mistakes being made by one start-up after another:
1) The goals for PR are unrealistic. Start-ups (and others) sometimes expect PR to sell their products. Public relations is not a direct sales tool. It can create awareness, educate the target audience about new technologies or solutions, build positive buzz, win over influencers, develop credibility and build relationships with potential customers. It can lead the potential customer to the company’s website or store or telephone sales force. These are not insignificant accomplishments; they are necessary steps along the way towards sales. But PR can’t always deliver sales leads. (You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.)
2) The company’s founders don’t think they need PR (or marketing) because the products are so great they’ll sell themselves. This relates to #1 above. It’s the “build it and they will come” philosophy that usually only works in a field of dreams! PR isn’t a sales tool, but the PR and marketing are steps towards sales that can’t be skipped. Even if the products are as great as the founders think, there must be a process to let people know about them.
3) The target audience is ill-defined or undefined. Sometimes when we talk to start-up executives about who they are targeting with their new products or services, the answer we get is, “Everyone. Everyone needs [or can use, or will like] this.” This is a serious mistake and marketing problem. There are important reasons to identify the target audience, consisting of those who are most likely to buy. It is more cost and time-efficient to focus on that segment of the population than to try to appeal to everyone. Even big companies with brands like Coke, McDonalds, the iPhone and Victoria’s Secret have target customers and aim their marketing towards them very specifically. There’s a good reason why you don’t see iPhone reviews orVictoria’s Secret ads in magazines published for senior citizens. It’s imperative to do research to determine the best target audience.
4) There are no key communications messages chosen to be communicated. What do you want your target customer to know and think about the product? Unfortunately the answer we sometimes get to this question is a very long, complex litany of attributes, facts and figures. It’s very difficult if not impossible to get across long and complex series of messages. We work with our clients to identify three or four of the most compelling messages and to repeat these over and over until they are well-communicated.
5) The company expects splashy media coverage just because it (or its product) is being launched. If there’s not much new or different to offer, when there is no important differentiation from competitors, there’s no news. If there’s no news, there’s no compelling reason for media coverage. We can offer the media interviews with company executives to discuss industry trends or current events, and the resulting media mentions help the company build credibility and visibility. But we can’t deliver a lot of coverage about a company and its products if there’s nothing new or different about them.
Most entrepreneurs don’t come from marketing or communications backgrounds, never had to be proficient in those areas and are not natural-born communicators. We’re there to help, by advising and educating. With a good, well-differentiated product, some education about the basics of marketing and PR – and a little luck – a small start-up can take giant strides in establishing itself.