Posts Tagged ‘Start-up’

Preparing Your Startup for Media Interviews: the Do’s and Don’ts

March 22, 2013

Successful entrepreneurs are known for being risk-takers, putting both their money and reputation on the line to launch a new product or service, often in a competitive or nascent market. Some psychologists suggest that entrepreneurs’ brains are hard-wired to take risks—they live for the dopamine high associated with standing on the edge of a tall cliff (or business deal).

It’s not surprising then that many entrepreneurs get an emotional charge when they are put in the spotlight to talk about their businesses with media. While risk-taking may pay off in certain situations, a media interview is not one of them.  Without careful planning, an interview can result in a wasted opportunity for good exposure, or worse, it can make your company the butt of “funny headline” jokes on the Tonight Show. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you make the best of your interview opportunities:

Do’s:

  • Research the Reporter: Before every interview, you or your PR advisor should research the reporter to determine what he or she has already written about and what the tone of their reporting is like (e.g. investigative, light-hearted, opinionated, etc.)
  • Develop Talking Points:  Always solicit a list of potential questions from the reporter prior to the interview. With few exceptions, reporters will usually share some initial questions, because it makes their job easier when the interviewee is already prepared with important information. These questions should be used to develop talking points to help you steer the conversation in the right direction. The talking points should also include additional questions that could come up, especially the sticky ones.
  • Practice: If this is the first time you have been interviewed on a particular topic, or if there have been significant changes to your messaging since the last interview, squeeze in a little rehearsal time. This is particularly important when interviewing with reporters that have a reputation for being critical or when the format of the interview is broadcast, where a bad 10-second sound bite can spoil an otherwise spotless performance. If you have a PR advisor, make sure they provide you with media training.
  • Follow Up: There are times when you may do all the right things to prepare for an interview, only to find that a story is not produced or that the interview is edited out of the story. Sometimes this is unavoidable, such as when the story has to be trimmed to meet a specific word count or when the reporter quashes the story to make space for another pressing news item.  But other times it can be prevented with proper follow up. When following up, reiterate any points you want to make clear to the reporter and ask if he or she has follow up questions. Also consider sending them references to additional sources, including other potential interviewees, that could support the development of the story.

Homer Simpson

Don’ts:

  • Go Off the Record: The words “off the record” go against the grain of journalistic integrity, and, perhaps more importantly, the basic interest of the reporter in publishing a compelling story. Always assume anything you say is fair game.
  • Respond with “No Comment”: Reporters usually interpret this as stonewalling, and readers will likely think it means you have something to hide. There are situations when it is in your best interest to stay mum, such as when being questioned about sensitive financial or legal information or information that could reveal too much to your competition. In these situations, provide as much information as you feel is safe, and simply explain that you can’t go into any additional details at that time. This is also a good opportunity to bridge the conversation to a different, but relevant, topic that you really want to talk about.
  • Use Jargon: Reporters strive to make their stories as accessible as possible for their audiences. With the exception of trade or special interest media, where highly technical information may be required, you should stay away from industry jargon and try to simplify complex ideas into comprehensible points. Sometimes using metaphors can be a good way to explain an intricate point, but when a metaphor won’t do, you should have a succinct and lucid description at the ready.
  • Talk About a Competitor: This is another one where there are exceptions, but in general, you should let your competitors do their own talking. The two big risks here are that you may unintentionally build awareness for the wrong team, and perhaps more importantly, if you get your facts wrong, you may find your company getting slapped with a lawsuit.

Jacob Seal

Ask Not What the Media Can Do for You, Ask What You Can Do for the Media

February 13, 2013

Unfortunately, most emerging companies have approached public relations as little more than an extension of their sales promotion efforts, narrowly focusing their messaging on attributes of their products or services with the expectation that reporters will spread the word to the masses. At best, this approach usually yields a limited number of media placements originating around a product launch. At worst, reporters will view the announcements as editorialized sales pitches and discard them. Then comes the inevitable question from the corporate brass: “What value are we getting from that PR budget?”

kennedy

This scenario often could be averted if the question were turned around: “What value can the media get from our company?” Marketing professionals should appreciate this question—they are accustomed to defining value for potential customers, but reporters are not potential customers. Their needs are completely different.

To effectively engage reporters, it is important to understand how they evaluate information. Their raison d’être is to uncover what’s “newsworthy” to their specific audiences and to report this information in an easy-to-understand format. Thus, for a company’s message to resonate with a reporter it must be perceived to have a certain quality of newsworthiness.

Newsworthiness is a very abstract concept. It differs from company to company. A management change at a large conglomerate, for example, would be considered more newsworthy than a similar change at a startup. It also differs from reporter to reporter. Trade reporters, for instance, view newsworthiness through a narrow lens focused on a specific industry, while reporters with general business and consumer media often (not always) view newsworthiness through a broader lens focused on major social, economic or technological trends.

We’re at a time when major brands seem to wield more and more media influence, and reporters are becoming more and more immune to unsolicited story pitches. So how can a startup company demonstrate newsworthiness in such a tough climate?

The key is to start developing a PR plan early. It’s not uncommon for startups to focus their early-stage efforts on building out core business functions, such as sales channels, product development, logistics and other back office functions, putting off PR until the product launch approaches. This is understandable—resources are always an issue, and expenditures and staff time have to be prioritized. We also understand the competitive reasons for some companies to operate in “stealth mode” until they’re ready to launch sales. However, postponing PR planning until a month or two before going to market can seriously limit the company’s opportunities to drive greater visibility and lead to pitfalls that could have been avoided with proper planning.

As you begin crafting your PR plan, a key component is to identify story angles that will interest the media. This involves brainstorming with your management team and PR advisors to collect pertinent information about your company and its founders that is often scattered across many minds, and identifying the facets that could be used to create compelling story angles. Significant product news creates potential angles, as well as any anticipated milestones (e.g., acquisition of new management, new external partnerships, new funding, etc.). These events may offer good opportunities for exposure in some media outlets, with the highest potential usually being in trade and business media.

But there is no reason to limit the company’s story angles to these business events. PR planning is a creative process that requires you and your PR advisors to look beyond the obvious characteristics of your business to discover other aspects that could distinguish you from the flock. A great example of a company that has succeeded at this is Ben & Jerry’s. The company has been able to command media interest at will. Its products, however, are rarely what grab the headlines. Rather, much of the media coverage has focused on the company’s eccentricities: its unconventional founding (it was originally conceived as a bagel shop), its offbeat management practices (e.g. its erstwhile salary ratio policy) and its reputation as a champion of social issues.

Admittedly, the comparison between the media strategy of an emerging IT or biotech company with that of Ben & Jerry’s is tenuous, but there are opportunities for most companies to seize the limelight in unconventional ways if they try. Before they became iconic brands, companies like Microsoft, Facebook, Groupon and Flickr were successful at this, getting attention for quirks in their corporate cultures,  business models, operational development or founders’ stories.

The bottom line is, in order for your company to derive value from its media strategy, it has to first prove its value (i.e. newsworthiness) to the media. The art of PR is storytelling: mining the various facets of your business to uncover what sets it apart—its newsworthiness—and packaging that information into compelling story angles to engage the media.

Jacob Seal

Recent Online Finds to Share with You

July 19, 2012

First, an apology to the fans of this blog who have been pining for a fresh blog post and haven’t gotten one for three months ( or maybe nobody’s noticed?). The good news: Bridge Global Strategies has been growing and has seen a sudden surge in new clients. The bad news: we’re all working like crazy to get everything done, and we had to put the blog on the back burner for a little while.

Infographic from the Grasshopper.com blog

I thought I’d get back into the groove with a blog post on some recent online sites and groups I’ve stumbled across that you might be interested in if you’re in the world of marketing, media and/or communications.

The first is a LinkedIn group called “Find a journalist – around the world.” Its purpose is to help find journalists anyplace in the world. For example, if an American magazine is doing a story on healthcare in India, the editors can use “Find a Journalist” to look for a freelancer in India they could hire to do the story.  Journalists from around the world can offer their services to media that are looking for freelance writers or columnists. There are over 11,000 members of the group. Here’s the link to the group: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Find-journalist-around-world-1814419/about.

The next one is also related to international journalism. It’s a place journalists can go to look for sources all over the world for their stories. Like “Find a Journalist,” it started as a LinkedIn group. There’s still a LinkedIn group, called “Media Diplomat,” but the activity is moved to a new website: http://www.mediadiplomat.com .  The LinkedIn group has over 7,000 members, most of whom are from the following countries: the U.S., the U.K., Canada and China.

Hubii is a site that just launched this year and provides an easy way to look at international media by location. The site provides a clickable map. If you click on London, instantly a choice of London-based media pops up and you can click on any of them to get an assortment of articles from the media outlet’s website.  Or, alternatively, if you want to get an international sample of coverage on a particular issue, you can enter a keyword into the Hubii search engine and you’ll be given headlines from around the world related to that key word. For example, I searched for LIBOR and found 269 articles from around the world about the banking manipulation of the LIBOR rate, ranging from the Barcelona New to the Belfast Telegraph to The Australian, and including a wide range of American media. You can filter the news results by type of media outlet and/or by language.  Very cool and convenient.

Collectors Quest is a site for collectors of just about everything and anything. It’s not a new site, but it’s been redesigned and relaunched, and it now provides a collectables marketplace side-by-side with information about the collectibles and an opportunity to share what you find with others via social media. The company has just announced a marketing partnership with media company A+E Networks to feature content from A+E’s popular “Pawn Wars” and “American Pickers” TV shows on the site and give viewers a chance to search for items similar to those on these shows. In the name of complete disclosure, I am not an impartial observer here – Collectors Quest is one of our clients. I mention this site because of the interesting marketing partnership as well as the attraction of the site itself.

Grasshopper, which offers a virtual phone system that allows entrepreneurs to run their businesses from their cell phones while appearing more established, has a blog with useful information for entrepreneurs. One of the recent blog posts features “8 Infographics to Boost Entrepreneurial Superpowers.”  Some of the most compelling infographics are “Best Infographic to Access the Newest Funding Sources,” “Can Crowdfunding Save the U.S. Economy?” and “Best Infographic to Choose the Right Apps.”

Lucy Siegel

Get Lucy Siegel’s book at Amazon, free download from July 19th-21st!  “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

Six Reasons Flexibility Helps Start-ups

March 20, 2012

Flexibility

Lord knows, start-ups have plenty of disadvantages (never enough money, limited staff to do all that needs to be done and low visibility compared to established competitors, to name just a few). However, there’s no point in looking at a half-empty cup when there is, after all, still half a cup left. Start-ups have some important advantages over Goliath competitors, many of which involve the ability to be more flexible. Small companies love to talk about flexibility as an asset they have over larger competitors but seldom explain why it’s an asset. Here are some of the advantages of flexibility:

1. It’s easy for start-ups to change direction. Making a big change can be done quickly and far more efficiently than in a large company. Think of turning around a small motor boat compared to an ocean liner.

2. As small businesses, it’s easier for start-ups to respond to employees’ needs by allowing less rigid work rules. If someone wants to work at home one or two days a week or come in a couple of hours early and leave a couple of hours early, there aren’t layers of bureaucracy and paperwork to go through to make this possible.

3. The founder of a start-up doesn’t have to live by anyone else’s rules. Start-ups begins with no rules and no well-established business structure, and can make up their own rules and business structure.

4. Let’s say you have a revolutionary idea, and if your company is successful, you’ll change your industry forever. Chances are that someone in a big company somewhere has had the same idea, but big companies can’t be as flexible about making revolutionary changes. They have a lot more to lose than you do: market share, customer trust, brand recognition, public preconceptions about what they stand for. Meanwhile, you’re starting from scratch and can create something revolutionary without worrying about what you’ll lose in the process.

5. The communications and management infrastructure at start-ups are much more informal and allow more flexibility to individual employees to make themselves heard and have an influence on the overall company. There’s nothing more empowering to employees than the knowledge that what they do really counts, and that their ideas and input will be listened to by senior people (who may be sitting in the same room they are) and can have a big influence the success of the company.

6. The definition of success is up to the entrepreneur. It is not predefined as generating shareholder profit. Founders of start-ups can set their own goals. There is flexibility that comes from not having to worry about short-term shareholder benefits. Some civic-minded start-up founders place heavy emphasis on the goal of helping their communities. Some founders are determined to stay small enough to allow themselves the satisfaction of doing hands-on work with clients.

Lucy Siegel

Don’t Make These Five Start-up PR Mistakes

December 20, 2011

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.

Lucy Siegel

R ead my e-book: “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture”

Marketing Directors at Start-ups Have to Be …?

January 20, 2011

New companies are very needy when it comes to marketing.  Nobody knows the company or the products, and there’s no company track record to fall back on.   Very frequently the CEO and most of the others in the company don’t have a good understanding of marketing. It’s extremely important for a start-up to have an experienced and talented marketing  director because the tasks at hand are daunting: develop marketing strategy, carry it out and explain it to the boss, all at the same time, and, at least in the beginning, without any help.

I’ve asked several people who have been marketing directors at startups, or who have had to hire to fill this position, what they think the keys for success are in this important position. They have agreed to give Bridgebuzz readers their thoughts.  So, what does it take to do the job?

Chris Carradine, Vice President, Marketing, ecobee
(Toronto-based green tech company):

  • Selfless team players – while this is an overused term,  their approach must be about the greater health of their companies, not their personal aspirations for awards and recognition.
  • The mind- set to do whatever it takes – build the plan, write the copy, do the calls, send the kits – it’s all up to you.
  • Its all about the “runway” – marketing directors at start-ups should not be so focused on spending to the level of their budgets but rather should challenge themselves and their teams to manage expenditures below the budget, while still achieving success, since every dollar saved “extends the runway”.

Michael Lamberson, Director of Marketing, Appature, Inc.
(Seattle-based software company)

  • Vision. I think having a clear vision of what you want your brand to stand for and how it helps drive the business model is extremely important. And, having the ability to articulate and sell that vision upwards and communicate it internally is really important for people to “see” something that is ethereal and really get behind it.
  • Action. Having a good system of prioritizing actions, based on criticality, not necessarily urgency, is super-helpful.  Since you are probably 12-24 months from build-out of your marketing “dream team,” you will have to rely on your own hard work and your network of “experts” to execute things that need to happen.  And, it is critical that you helicopter up and down to ensure you are tracking to your overall brand building vision and your CEO and organization at-large see the connections.  Don’t forget (and someone gave me this wise advice): the team you are working with may not, and probably doesn’t, know the value marketing can bring to a start-up, so don’t lose sight you will need to chalk up early wins as you are building and executing the long-term vision.
  • Have fun.  If you are truly passionate about brand building and creating something the world has never seen, you will undoubtedly be successful.

Joan Rothman, Vice President of Marketing, CoreMatrix Systems LLC
(New Jersey-based software/CRM consulting firm)

The most important qualities, in a nutshell:

  • Must be comfortable working in a constantly changing fast-paced environment
  • To head up marketing at a start-up, it’s very helpful to have extensive “roll-up your sleeves” experience
  • Outstanding ability to collaborate with triple A personalities is mandatory!

Takeshi Yamakawa, CEO, SNBL U.S.A.
(Seattle-based contract research organization – he was founding president of SNBL Clinical Pharmacology Center in Baltimore)

I think the most important quality is confidence in himself/herself.  Since a new start-up is yet to be tested by the market, he/she must be smart enough to judge the company, its strategies, management, plans. etc. and its competitiveness in the markets it is going into.  Without confidence in his own judgment about these things, he/she cannot lead the marketing activities as representative of the company, or cannot market the start-up to customers who have never experienced its services.  The marketing director needs to be confident in his/her judgment in joining the company in this position, one of the most important functions a start-up company needs.  Self-confidence can help both the marketing director and the company go through the huge challenges they will face.

Lucy Siegel

10 “Must Haves” From Your PR Agency

November 30, 2010

Bridge Global Strategies specializes in working with start-ups, in addition to companies headquartered outside the U.S.  At every start-up we’ve worked with, the CEO is involved in the decision-making about hiring a PR firm.  However, many entrepreneurs never had the responsibility for selecting a public relations firm – never even worked with a PR firm – until they started their own companies.  They’re often not sure what qualities they need in a PR agency and don’t know what results are reasonable to expect.  Dear readers, if you are the founder of a start-up, or if you’re working closely with one, this blog post is for you.

Here are 10 expectations you should have from any PR agency you hire:

  • It has ethical owners and managers who expect ethical behavior from all employees.
  • The agency gives you a realistic view of what can be accomplished with PR.
  • It will tell you if your budget is impossibly low and will walk away if you really don’t have enough budget to afford the services.
  • If you do hire the agency, it is able to stay within the agreed-upon budget.
  • The agency has a track record of success for other clients. You should ask for case studies, and for references from clients.
  • It has smart, experienced people who:
    • Are capable of developing strategy,
    • Can counsel you on key issues that affect the image of your company and influence product sales – not just business issues, but also social, political and environmental issues.
    • Won’t be afraid to speak up to you and other top executives if they disagree.
    • Will tell you what they don’t know.
    • Last but not least, write well.

A lot of start-ups aren’t sure what public relations will do for them. We’re often asked, “With budget limitations, why spend money on PR? Why not advertising, direct marketing or sales promotion?”  What PR can accomplish depends on the circumstances as well as the work of the PR agency. Good agencies don’t over-promise what they can accomplish.  You should be suspicious of any agency that promises you coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, the New York Times, on the “Today” show or on top blogs such as The Huffington Post, TechCrunch or Gizmodo.

Sometimes this kind of coverage is possible. It isn’t impossible for a PR agency to help launch a totally unknown start-up company and/or product and catapult it into the limelight in a short period of time, even on a relatively modest budget.  But most of the time for start-ups this kind of prominence isn’t within each, at least not at first, for several reasons.

Don’t ignore public relations at launch time just because the outcomes aren’t certain. A company has only one opportunity to launch itself, which can be a good kick-start to building some long-term reputation and visibility. And that’s what really counts. Unless the company continues to make news after the launch, the media and the public will move on to something else.  However, with hard work and creativity, over time, a PR agency can help build a steady stream of attention that can be sustained.

There are no guarantees in public relations. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t being straightforward. PR agencies work with “third parties” – the public, local communities, the media, online groups, etc.  They excel at using the power of persuasion, but that ‘s the real power PR possesses, and persuasion is different from control.  Advertising and direct marketing provide control. But PR provides credibility: it’s effective for the very reason that the message isn’t controlled, it is merely suggested.  It’s a big boost to the company’s credibility if those independent third parties accept the message and choose to pass it along to others.

Lucy Siegel

9 Reasons I Love Doing PR for Start-ups

April 6, 2010

1) You get to work with people who are smart, energetic, passionate and confident.

2) It feels great that our work is the key to their visibility, and essential for their success.

3) It’s fun to be with them to watch them grow.

Small business advisor

4) Start-ups come from obscurity, and acquiring visibility delights them. What delights our clients makes us happy.

5) What delights them even more is getting VC funding. We can celebrate a lot of interim successes with them even before they’re profitable.

6) Start-ups are more open to new ideas, and they tend to be very receptive to our creativity.

7)  We don’t have to wade through an ocean of bureaucracy to get directly in front of the ultimate decision-makers.

8) We become part of the solution to a problem.  As Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees problems in opportunities whereas an optimist sees opportunities in problems.”

9) We’re a match made in heaven: they’re hungry for attention and we’re great at feeding and nurturing.

If your company is a start-up and you are interested in learning how Bridge can help you, please contact us (lsiegel at Bridgeny dot com).  We’d be happy to hear from you.

By Lucy Siegel


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