Dear Startups, Use Your (PR) Blank Page Wisely

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Last week I ran across a blank notebook with the ego-filling “From the Desk of Georgiana Comsa” header from 20 years ago when I started my data storage PR career at Adaptec (now Microsemi). What a blank page my PR career in the data infrastructure market was at that point! While I did some PR on the telco side, going in the infrastructure space was a different experience and I approached it carefully by spending some time on the employee communication side and then diving into product PR. I had great people around me and while I’d like to believe that I have always been proactive, there was a lot of hand-holding with every line I “wrote” on that blank page.

As a side note, I still remember when my amazing boss told me that unless I was writing about “jumping over a fence” or anything similar to that, the words “more than” should probably be used instead of “over.” I was a bit disappointed when the Associated Press decided in 2014 that it was OK to use “over” as a synonym for “more than.” Details for most, I know, but on my blank page that was an important bullet point: accurate writing, the most basic PR skill.

Going back to the blank page concept, let’s look at the blank page of a startup from a branding/PR perspective. I had the opportunity to be there for many startups when their page was blank. Once you start “writing” on it after so many months or even years working on the actual product and building the team, it feels “real.” As I explained to a client the other day, PR is not magical; it is a lot of work and, well, learning how to deal with rejection is a great life lesson in this job, because it happens even to the most experienced PR practitioners. Getting that blank page filled is a process and I want all startups to understand that if they want to “do PR” for one month only around their launch – in most cases – it is not going to help them long-term. In some cases, yes, it will help with SEO and it will get the name out a bit assuming that in the following months, they keep their name in front of their audience somehow (social media, newsletters, webinars, events, etc. – by the way, I believe in an integrated approach), because, guess what, people forget. Even companies with the most amazing launches but no follow-up after the launch realized that both prospects and influencers forgot about them in the following months.

So here is my tip on to get that first blank page filled in your startup diary. Find your PR partner a couple of months before your launch. Work with him/her/them on a six-month plan. Understand that 1) you are partners, working together, not against each other (many reasons why I say, this; I may explain it in a different post) and 2) content is king/queen. Without the right PR help (that includes social media these days since I refuse to believe that there are still “traditional” PR consultants or agencies out there, with no social media presence) and without the right content, have a soft launch and steer away from the “big reveal.” Honestly, these days, many startups don’t care anymore about keeping their technology a big secret and they slowly post information on their website even before the launch. Of course, without sharing that information, it will just sit there. That brings me back to PR.

Understand the steps that you need to make in order to get the blank page filled. Same as the steps that you took to build your career, there are certain steps that you need to take to build your company. Coverage in a specific publication is the wrong goal. Some B2B founders are so stuck on getting coverage in big business pubs – there is a time and a place for those, too – that they forget to tell the story to the people who actually test and buy their technology.

Next blog post will address that: working with influencers in the B2B startup space and learning that coverage that would make you proud in eyes of your parents may not be coverage that would actually close deals for your company.