PR is a tricky subject, and for startups without a team of professionals to guide them, the issue can be even harder to maneuver. While getting press isn’t the end-all, be-all of a company, it definitely makes a difference in getting the attention of potential customers, partners and investors. And when handled poorly, the results can be disastrous.
Here are some common PR mistakes startups make – and a few tips on how to avoid them.
Sending Unfortunate Emails
Grammar matters – especially when you’re dealing with writers who know the AP Stylebook front-to-back and consider Grammar Girl the Bible. Review your emails and press releases to make sure they are as mistake-free as possible, and get someone else to look them over, too. Journalists will be willing to overlook one or two oops moments, but if the errors are so distracting they can’t get the gist of what you’re saying, you’re in trouble.
And if you’re sending an email in a language that’s not your own, FIND A NATIVE SPEAKER TO READ THROUGH IT. As “good enough” as your English, Spanish or Portuguese may be in conversation, writing is an entirely different (and much more permanent) ball game.
Not Knowing Your Audience
We once received a message from an entrepreneur opening with a few lines of how commendable our publication was and emphasizing its importance for the local ecosystem. The problem: he was naming another publication – and a competitor at that.
Address the journalist and/or media outlet you’re contacting directly. Flex you Google and LinkedIn muscles, and chances are you’ll be able to find the name and email address of the person you want to get to. Not only is the “spray and pray” approach annoying, but it also lets writers off the hook in when it comes to responding. If you didn’t take the time out to learn my name, what makes you think I feel like learning yours?
Making Information Hard to Find
What do you do? Why does it matter? What do you want? How can we contact you? If a journalist or producer can’t figure out the answers to those four questions easily, your prospects aren’t looking good.
Lay things out as clearly and concisely as possible from the get-go. Still haven’t figured out how to describe your startup in one sentence? Do it now. Not sure what makes your startup relevant? Get it straight. Make sure your contact information is easy to find, and have more information (a press kit, presentation, etc.) on hand upon request.
Breaking Contractual Rules
Deals involving acquisitions, mergers, investments and partnerships come with a fair share of guidelines, including what you can and cannot say to the press and when. Of course you’re elated about finally closing your seed round, but make sure you’re allowed to share your excitement right now. If not, keep a lid on it.
Read the fine print of the contracts you’re signing, and if you’re dealing with a big player, make sure to consult with their PR team first. Misstep here, and you run the risk of losing that investment you’ve worked so hard for.
Going in Unprepared
We know you’ve got a million other things going on right now, but when you finally get an interview, you’ve got to be prepared. There are some standard questions you can expect from most journalists, so think of your answers ahead of time. How did you come up with the idea? What sets you apart from competitors? How do you plan to make money?
Journalists like a good story, so make yours worth hearing and telling. And P.S., saying you’re building “the next Facebook” is not the way to go.