Three important things one PR pro has learned about working with tech startups
My PR firm is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. As I’m in the central hub of the tech industry, I’ve been fortunate to work with many early-stage, fast-growing Silicon Valley tech startups.
The tech industry is one of America’s most respected and celebrated business, yet tech companies often struggle to convey their key messages and get an accurate hearing in the court of public opinion.
Some of the PR challenges facing tech startups include the fast pace that startups demand – these companies are moving at warp speed and they often demand immediate results. Tech startups are also operating in an incredibly competitive space; with so many other startups fighting for media attention, it can be hard to get your voice heard. Another challenge is that many tech startups use their CEO as the main point of contact for the media, but startup CEOs are often on the road, hard to schedule for interviews, and might be inexperienced at working with the media in a strategic manner.
Below are some key insights that I’ve gained about how to work with a startups’ unique needs.
1. You must think like a startup, in order to work with one. Startups are a unique breed and different from other more established corporate clients. They have different challenges and perspectives, and often see themselves as being disruptive change-agents who are taking on an entrenched status quo. Demonstrate to your startup clients that you’re really on their side by turning the table and thinking like a startup.
Listen closely and try to see things from the unique perspective of a young company that is trying to make big changes. Develop a PR plan that really melds with the minds of the company’s leaders and maps back to solid results that tie into their business goals. Learn how to feel their pain, struggles, and integrate yourself into the daily life of the company. For example, if they need to hire, tap into your network and connect them with a great recruiter. If they are looking to focus on raising a new round and you have key connections with investors that would be a great fit, help make some introductions. If you feel another client might be a good partner – connect the two of them.
Thinking about how you can help with their daily challenges and unique needs – going above and beyond PR - will give you a solid connection and understanding of what it will take to get the company off the ground.
2. Work like a startup. Startups tend to have unique ways of collaborating and it’s important and helpful for you to work in the same way that they do by using (if possible) the same productivity tools that the startup uses with their in-house staff.
For example, if they prefer to use Google Docs instead of MS Office, then switch to Google Docs for the duration of the project. If they use Slack in addition to email to communicate, follow suit. If they use productivity tools like Wrike or Basecamp, ask for a user account and work side-by-side with your clients. If they see you making a solid effort to become fluent in the same work tools that they use, they’ll truly appreciate it and feel that you are more invested in their success and a real partner.
Another aspect of working efficiently is keeping the company’s burn rate in mind. Startup founders lie awake at night thinking about how much money they’re spending and whether they’re seeing enough ROI. People might assume that tech startups are flush with VC money, but the truth is, most young companies (whether they’re VC-funded or not) are very budget conscious and anxious to see visible results. Plug into their Google analytics and CRM so you can showcase your value to both the startup and their board with ROI reports that demonstrate the value you bring above and beyond media results.
Tech startups also require a higher degree of personalized service from their PR agency. They want to make sure that their primary contact person at the PR agency does not disappear or fail to reply promptly to emails or phone calls. If you brought in the business, then you owe it to the client to set expectations and be visibly working on their account. Never let them feel like they’re not a top priority. Every client needs occasional reassurance and “hand-holding,” and this is especially true for startup founders who might be working with a PR firm for the first time.
3. Be agile, adaptable and lean – then get ready to pivot! Remember that in the startup world, everything can change on a dime. You may have a whole 6-month strategy mapped out – and then everything changes in a month. Announcements get shifted around, product launch dates get pushed back, partnerships form (or fall apart), funding closes (or doesn’t), acquisitions happen. Or, the company’s entire business model evolves in a new direction. Be prepared to “pivot” the PR strategy when it makes sense. Sometimes the best way to demonstrate your value is to be adaptable in your strategy and timing. Go with the flow and be prepared to pounce on new opportunities as they emerge!
Despite the unique challenges, startups can be some of your most fun and rewarding clients if you go in with the right mindset. Tech startups tend to be fun to work with, because they’re young and energetic, they have ambitious goals and big ideas. You have the opportunity to shepherd them along through some major growth stages and get to be on board for some exciting successes! Just remember to think like a startup, work like a startup, and align your efforts with their top priorities. Make yourself into a go-to resource whose expertise and generosity generates lots of extra value for the company in ways that go beyond media coverage alone. In time, you might find that fast-growing startups can be a big source of growth for your firm!
Juliet Travis is the founder and Principal of Travis Communications, a Bay Area-based digital communications PR agency. Born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, Juliet holds nature near and dear to her heart. She has a great sense of adventure and loves a challenge. She has hiked the Alaska Range, following only a moose trail and dipnetted salmon in Chitina, Alaska – one of the more dangerous fishing trips she’s ever experienced! She spends several weeks each summer experiencing the almost 24 daylight hours and every winter celebrating the holidays back home in Fairbanks, weathering 20-30 below zero temperatures in near total darkness with the Northern Lights dancing overhead. You can find Juliet on both LinkedIn and Twitter.
Photo: Work via Shutterstock