PR Advice for Tech Startup Founders With One of A Kind Products

by Michelle McIntyre

As a seasoned public relations professional, I’ve enjoyed many productive and passionate discussions with genius technologists who want their “one of a kind” startup product covered by the media.

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Here’s a tip for inventors. Quality feature stories are written because something is societally relevant, interesting cocktail conversation fodder or a unique problem solver. Journalists do want to know, how will this change the world?

During an initial consultation with a founder usually I start out by asking what is different about their new product or service.  Sadly 75 percent of the time the answer is, “There is no other product like ours.” And it’s hard to respond without objection because  99 percent of the time that’s not true. Usually I can find an example of several similar products via a simple internet search.

The secret to a company getting coverage is simple. Leave the ego at the door. Quit thinking a product is the only one of its kind and ask others like an experienced PR professional what is really interesting about your story.

One founder I met with was finalizing an app that tracked a child’s to-do list. I searched and found another app that made the exact same claim. They in turn switched to a communications plan that made more sense having to do with showcasing their expertise in productivity instead of touting its uniqueness. It had a beautiful interface by the way.

Another tip is when you share information with the person you have assigned PR to don’t hold back on the good stuff. One founder I worked with waited a few weeks to disclose he was born with a serious medical problem and had several surgeries to correct it. Through diet and exercise he overcame it. His online fitness community he created was partly born because of this rough start in life. As soon as he told me, I told a Business Insider writer. She liked this angle about the founder and wrote a feature about him and his co-founder.

This app was also quite unique though. It weeded out bully comments automatically. That in fact was an impressive feature and resulted in nice coverage in TIME. But when you start with a claim, that a new product is super unique, unless you have a third party expert saying it, it’s usually a turn-off to writers.

To quote Journalist Dean Takahashi via a story he filed on PR tips in Venturebeat a few years ago, “What I love is finding something unique and interesting to write about. I want to find something magical, and I think most journalists, even the most cynical of the bunch, share the joy of discovering something really cool. Sometimes the real story isn’t the game itself. It’s the person who made it.”

I don’t mean to call out a founder who is a hard working, award-winning and an obviously smart inventor. The point is be very careful about telling someone your product is one of a kind. It probably is not.

I worked with a brilliant technologist with an artificial intelligence startup who wrote a celebrated technical paper years before the formation of the company. The technological phenomenon discussed in the paper was “in” iPhone’s Siri. When I pitched a writer I started with that detail, its impact on technology that tens of millions of people use. (Last I checked around 41 million people used the Siri voice assistant.)

This business reporter filed a story soon after. And that story focused on the startup solution, the funding and its venture capitalist. But the hook was the impact of what was in that paper.

In summary, journalists get pummeled with hundreds of pitches and press releases a day. Make sure you leave your ego at the door when talking to them: test your story line or pitch on a friend or family member to see if they say, “That’s interesting.”

Let others decide what’s interesting about your startup story, trust their feedback and go with it. Be careful going down the path of saying it’s a one of a kind product. It likely is not.

Photo: Shutterstock

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Michelle McIntyre is the president of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC, a seven year old tech PR consulting firm. She’s the recipient of 11 awards for outstanding results mostly from IBM. She’s held numerous nonprofit executive board positions focused on enhancing the lives of children. @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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Succeed In 2020 With These 9 PR Tips

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To succeed in public relations and marketing communications you must stay on top of the trends. Here are 9 timely tips from the experts designed to help startup founders be successful in 2020. They cover keeping it personal, conveying timely messages, using visuals that pop, how to stick with a writing goal, the importance of content marketing and  teaming with other PR professionals.

Here are my favorite PR tips for 2020 and the expert associated with each:

1) Use easy-to-understand visuals that pop when storytelling.

Who’s the expert? @LouHoffman of @Daily Brew aka #IshmaelsCorner blog

The first tip comes from Lou Hoffman, head of Hoffman Communications. Hoffman loves incorporating visuals when conveying a message. More specifically he advises, “Dress up the company timeline as a storytelling vehicle.” And do this in an easy to understand attractive way. I particularly liked his advice to not make infographics too busy or overly complicated. A company timeline could become a bear image if not managed right, for example, don’t make someone tilt their head sideways to read a timeline. Hoffman has done a decent job establishing his agency as a top one in the Silicon Valley with a very strong presence globally especially in Asia. He’s also a really good speaker.

2) Be timely in your PR messages. 

Who’s the expert? Melissa DiMercurio @StantonComm

This tip comes (indirectly) from Stanton Communications a PR firm serving corporations, industry associations and not for profits globally. As I was looking up hot PR trends online I came across a super timely December blog post by Melissa DiMercurio on the Stanton website with the headline, “Iced Holiday Beverage, Peloton Backlash, Baby Yoda and More.” I was impressed they just blogged about very current image related news hitting all of the key words and saying intelligent things. A lot of time people blog about something more evergreen or out of date. They were quick and smart enough to write something that was timely that day and get it published fast. Nice.

3) Add a human element to your PR campaign.

Who’s the expert? @Jalila as quoted in @AdAge

Jalila Levesque of a company called FF said in a recent blog post, “In a world that’s becoming increasingly ruled by algorithms and robots, PR strategy must be driven by emotion and have that human element to be more meaningful and lead to a growing focus on expert, local and enthusiastic micro-influencers, instead of macro-influencers.”

Yes, we keep hearing that PR needs to focus on analyzing results using digital tools and incorporate more AI, yadda yadda yadda and so on. But behind all the digital activity that might include Meltwater, Sprout, Cision or Hootsuite tools, keep the human touch alive.

4) Share knowledge with other PR professionals.

Who’s the expert? Hailey Johnson of @ThreeSixtyEight

Hailey Johnson recently said in a 2020 AdAge trends article, “PR professionals and marketers working together and sharing knowledge is the new trend.” She adds that if a PR pro has a specific capability you don’t have, hire them to help.

I agree. I reviewed all of the ways I got new business since I became a consultant: surprisingly a significant portion came through key PR contacts either via referral or through directly hiring me for a project. Stay in touch with your PR friends by joining @PRSA or inviting people to lunch. It’s also fun hanging around your PR peers.

5) See PR as part of the big marketing campaign.

Who’s the expert? Vicki Ho, Movement Strategy 

Vicki Ho of Movement Strategy a “social-led creative agency” said recently in an AdAge 2020 trends story, “One of the most important trends I’m seeing within public relations on the agency side is the value the industry is placing on our strategic role within a larger marketing campaign, rather than just being valued for the end results.” Her firm has done campaigns for Party City, Netflix, Under Armor and others. I’ll add, think about how you fit into the whole picture and create ideas from that perspective.

6) Use a thesaurus when writing.

Who’s the expert? Laura Hale Brockway via a Ragan @PRDaily quote

Laura Hale Brockway likes to write about writing. In mathematical terms she’s like writing squared. Her recently story caught my eye that listed 50 alternatives to the word “excited.” This is a great headline because marketing and PR people use “excited” as a default in press release quotes, e.g. “Our two awesome companies are excited about collaborating on this project.” Ugh. Don’t do this.

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Hale Brockway says, “A thesaurus can come in handy when crafting a press release, especially when using the same old words. Here is a list to help strengthen your pitching vocabulary.” I agree. Shoot down those overused starting-to-sound-meaningless words in favor of more expressive writing like “eager,” “thrilled” or “animated.” This takes risk so my other advice is to be brave.

7) Content marketing will be the queen bee of 2020.

Who’s the expert? Michelle McIntyre MMC PR @FromMichelle

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Content marketing is going to be the queen bee in 2020. It’s the top way to garner attention for your business. Here are some ideas about how to do it. Blog about advice related to your industry.  Blog about trends in software as a service, AI, quantum computing, future of work, collaboration, printer security, or whatever problem your company helps solve.

The problem is wanna-be bloggers have trouble with headlines and deadlines. Headlines are what you are going to write about. A PR expert can advise you on that. But, how do you achieve deadline goals? We all know it’s smart to write on a regular basis like six or 12 times per year. Simply set up a reward or hammer system. If you write six blog stories over six months reward yourself with a monthly subscription to a new streaming video channel like Hallmark or Hulu.

A hammer is more of a self-punishment. Laura Hale Brockway advises how to achieve writing deadlines via hammers in her Impertinent Remarks blog. She said if you don’t make your writing deadline get creative, for example, force yourself to donate to a political campaign you are against. That’s innovative for sure but on this end I will stick to rewards.

8) Become a thought leader in your industry on something specific.

Who’s the expert? @WendyMarx, Author and President of Marx Communications

Wendy Marx says be a thought leader on something specific in your industry to garner attention. She elaborates in a LinkedIn story, “At first, many people make the mistake of claiming expertise in everything. But realistically, it’s just not possible. Especially in the beginning, it’s important to focus on one main area.”

She’s right. From a PR standpoint if you stand for everything and are all over the place no one knows why they should buy your product, hire you or interview you for a feature story. Tell a prospect, “I offer a freemium consumer app that tells you the least expensive parking space available now in San Francisco” instead of “I make busy people’s lives easier.”

9) Public relations are personal relations.

Who’s the expert? Warren H. Cohn, @WarCo1 of @herald_PR via @Forbes Council

Warren H. Cohn who started a couple of communications firms elaborates on keeping communications personal in a recent Forbes Council post: “For PR specialists to thrive, they must research their target audience and deliver personal messages.”

He’s right. Spray and pray PR pitches often fail. In a world where everyone depends on technology to communicate, break down digital walls to keep business personal, and your results will reflect your efforts.”  As a side note, even though Forbes Council stories are paid content, some of the advice is quite good.

I agree with this especially in this age of “automate everything.” Yes, I believe in digital transformation and incorporating tools like artificial intelligence, but not at the expense of developing relationships with people.

In summary, some of the PR trends to utilize for success in 2020 include visual storytelling, hyper personalizing, more content marketing, seeing PR as part of the big picture and being specific in your thought leadership message.

What trends do you see?

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About the author: Michelle McIntyre is founder of Michelle McIntyre Communications LLC, a seven year old Silicon Valley public relations consulting firm. An IBM PR vet, she holds 11 awards for outstanding results. @fromMichelle on Twitter

Photo credits:

2020 Road image: Shutterstock

Thesaurus image: Canva

Michelle McIntyre image: Michelle McIntyre