5 Tips for Startup Founders Like Be Nice and Work with Friendly People

Here are five premium pieces of advice offered by the speaker at my tech startup founders Meetup this morning. Alastair Hood, Ph.D., CEO, the founder of utilities analytics startup Verdafero had a unique angle to share. Founded in 2009, the company is web-based software that helps businesses more smartly manage their utility usage. 

What was unique was that Mr. Hood often peppered in comments about being nice and working with friendly people. I liked the tone of that and believe that I was hired several times as a PR consultant because I simply got along well with the marketing or PR leads or founders. 

Here were five key takeaways:

  1. Don’t take money from investors if you can help it. Their vision might not be yours. I’ve heard this time and time again. But my two cents is to scale big time after you gain a bunch of customers, you may need to take money from a trusted source.
  2. Always be nice to people, especially when bootstrapping. You may need a favor from them later. He shared that he ran into Mark Zuckerberg once.
  3. Don’t fall for the Silicon Valley bullsh– story. I believe what he meant was don’t think that starting a company is all glamour and big payouts. You have to work hard, meet with many customers and prospects and take risks.
  4. Look for other avenues to generate revenue while you are developing your solution. Perhaps a customer prospect would be interested in your consulting services while your software as a service or saas software product is being finalized.
  5. Work with people you like. You will spend a lot of time with them. Along the same theme, he added, hire a friendly attorney. I asked if all lawyers who work with startups require a major retainer and the response was, no.

It was seriously refreshing to hear about the importance of collaborating with nice and friendly folks. 

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Michelle McIntyre is the founder of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC, an IBM vet and Silicon Valley PR diva. She loves to garner big attention for large and small companies including VC firms and has achieved 11 awards for outstanding results. @FromMichelle on Twitter

Thou Shalt Follow These 10 PR Commandments

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A commandment is defined as a divine rule. If you want to be a devout public relations professional, follow these 10 PR commandments in 2020.

Thou shalt spell check PR materials. Let pitch notes, press releases, client reports, blog stories, speeches, video scripts and so on sit overnight. Proofread it again in the morning or have someone else look at it. Sometimes editors will share an error-filled pitch or press release over social media to showcase poor communication that they have received.

Thou shalt keep thy PR message brief. Pitches more than 250 words might be hard for a top tier writer to comprehend. Some writers receive 400+ email pitches a day. Get to your point concisely.

Thou shalt surprise thy journalist. When you write a press release, ask yourself, did you include something new, interesting or surprising? Did you explain how it would improve someone’s life or improve a business process?

Thou shalt have a PR coverage goal. When you set out to garner attention for a company, concept or product, set a success bar. How much attention is considered successful? For example, your goal could be one feature print story, two TV news spots and five million impressions.  A tool like Meltwater could help.

Thou shalt not annoy an editor with too much follow up. Too many follow up messages might get you blacklisted by a writer. Use logic when following up. Instead of asking, did you receive the pitch note, ask something else like, are you back from holiday? Or, how was the trade show?

Thou shalt not abuse a mobile phone number. When a writer gives you their mobile phone number, don’t call it unless the situation is urgent. Typically people now can receive an email or direct social media message pretty quickly.

Thou shalt read a recent story by the writer before pitching. Read a recent story by the journalist before reaching out. If you don’t see any stories published in the past couple of years, they may not be worth your time. Maybe they took a job in PR, which is common these days. The exception is someone who edits but doesn’t have bylines. But lately it seems that editors publish as well.

Thou shalt not pitch via public Twitter profile. Journalists like scoops. They are not likely to discuss a solid story idea over their Twitter account for the competition to see. Some read direct messages but to send them a message they have to be following you. So it helps to have a quality Twitter profile and messages.

Thou shalt listen to what the writer wants. If a writer wants to only talk to customers and not the CEO, don’t keep offering interviews with the CEO.

Thou shalt say, “no” and add “try this instead.” When the lead marketing executive demands that you issue a press release on a drab, me-too, follow-on product, don’t be a yes man or woman. Offer a better idea like production of a video featuring a happy customer of the first product. Or write a pitch featuring a happy customer and success story: offer the customer as an interview source to a favorite writer. Mention the new product briefly as an aside.

Save the in-depth new product description for direct communications with customers and prospects and/or the right social media channels.

Boy praying photo:  Shutterstock

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Michelle McIntyre, an award-winning IBM vet and blogger is the president of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC, a tech PR consulting firm in the Silicon Valley. McIntyre has served on several  nonprofit boards and was named VLAB Volunteer of the Year in 2017 for her marketing and blogging efforts. @FromMichelle on Twitter

 

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The First 3 Steps in A Startup’s PR Journey

Publicity matters to your company because it affects reputation and influence and this might surprise you: it also boosts *SEO.

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Because of this, quality media exposure needs to be at the top of every startup founder’s priority list.

Let’s face it. It’s hard to hire and acquire customers without it. Before prospective employees decide to apply for a job, they look up a company online and check out what others are saying. If a company has had coverage, they are perceived as more important to the world.

So what’s a startup to do? There are many tactics to try. Here are three to start with.

1) MAKE AT LEAST FOUR MEDIA LISTS

Junior PR people usually get put on media list compilation duty when they serve a new client at PR agency. Long time clients usually have their lists compiled and updated already. When I worked at a PR agency in Palo Alto, California, in the early 90s at first I spent about half my time working with a database of about 5,000 journalists for a whole agency. This helped me learn how to build and maintain a quality list.

Early stage startup CEOs and their marketing VPs just beginning their PR journeys usually start with list making. And one just won’t do.

Here the types lists you might need: journalists and analysts attending your next conference. Top five to 10 industry-specific publications and newsletters. Thirdly, your regional list. Is there a local news journal that covers companies like yours? Like here it’s the Silicon Valley Business Journal. If you are in Dallas, it’s the Dallas Business Journal.

Lastly make your stretch list. Which media outlets are your absolute favorites? What is your dream headline and where do you want to see it? Did you always want to be quoted in Fortune? If you know what you want, you have a better chance of getting it.

2) ISSUE NEWS

Keep in mind your news does not have to be in the form of a press release. Write a 300-500 story and publish it on LinkedIn or Medium. Post it on your website. Write a few paragraphs and email it with tailored cover notes to 10 key journalists. Make sure it’s hard news. That means real news with details.  As an aside there are things called feature releases but you have to be experienced at PR to be successful with one of those.

The biggest journalist complaint is lack of details. If you are announcing a new product, say ship date and cost. If you have vaporware consider not issuing news about it. Try not to go “backwards” on this tactic. Don’t say, “We need to make some news. What can we issue a press release on?” Read what the local business journal people are writing about. It may surprise you. For example, a writer may be interested that you doubled your office space. They may not care that IDG gave you a newbie award.

3) INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO KEY JOURNALISTS

There are many ways to do this. But keep in mind that they are busy. A Venturebeat writer who covers tech news told me on average he files five news stories each day. That’s really busy.

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You can meet writers at a trade show by walking up and saying, “Hello.” You can go on a multi-city press tour: meet two journalists in four cities and tell them about your company.  You can send a personalized note to a handful of key reporters in your industry as well as a couple of regional ones. Ask, would you like to have a cup of coffee over a 10 minute get-to-know conversation? Say you are new to reaching out to the press and wanted to start out on the right foot.

Note that it’s easier to set up a meeting if you have a high title like CEO, are in a super interesting industry or have some hard news to discuss. Do not send a mass email though. That’s tacky and journalists can tell that when it’s happening.

An infographic in a 2019 Wendy Marx @WendyMarx blog post says mass email blasts are the sixth most offensive act a PR person can commit against a journalist. 

That’s about the gist of it. If you are starting out on your publicity journey do three things: make your lists, issue your news and then introduce yourself.

And if you don’t have time, hire a PR consultant or agency to help.

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*SEO is search engine optimization. When people search for what solution you provide you want your company name to come up high in the search. According to a January 24, 2018 blog post by Dorothy Crenshaw @dorocren “7 Reasons Why PR Matters,” “Established publications that link to a brand will boost search listings due to the sheer power of their digital domains.”

This PR tips article was written by Silicon Valley PR Consultant and President of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC Michelle McIntyre. She’s an IBM PR vet and was recognized as #3 top PR pro to follow on Twitter in November of 2018 (Ragan.com). @FromMichelle Business2community syndicates her PR blog.  The two images used for this story were purchased from Shutterstock.