Having been a former publicist myself, I wanted to discuss the best PR advice for startups in this piece. It’s a pretty interesting conversation because the art of public relations is often misunderstood, to say the least. Some people believe that startup or business experts are “chosen” to appear in news spots based on their merit or the appeal of their product. Others think that these opportunities are the result of luck. As if big shot news execs frequently stumble upon new brands and cannot stop themselves from writing interesting and engaging news segment to promote the company.
The reality is that publicity does not happen overnight and it is almost never the result of luck. I remember a few years back when I was in charge of marketing for a surgical center, a particular doctor barged into my office, completely outraged that he wasn’t “chosen” to appear on the TV show The Doctors. Instead, his arch nemesis from medical school was selected. This doctor was under the false impression that because he was a “better doctor” he should have been selected for the opportunity. I had to explain to him that his classmate had hired a professional PR team and that his TV success had little to do with his skill set and everything to do with a trained professional jumping on an opportunity.
Understanding the PR Game
Of course, household names like Elon Musk and Richard Branson rarely have to seek out interviews or PR opportunities. For anyone else who wants to capture a moment in the spotlight, it’s important to either hire a PR team or learn to tell your brand’s story in a creative way that appeals to journalists, reporters, and the public alike. To be a successful publicist, you must be able to completely understand your brand as your customers see it and have a good understanding of modern trends. This combination of knowledge and skill allows you to market your content in a way that will get noticed by your target audience amidst a sea of competition.
This topic came up recently at a Women at Forbes event when Megan Grassell, the millennial founder of Yellowberry, asked an insightful question. After a year of receiving great initial PR for her company, Grassell wondered how she could stay relevant in the news, since her story had already been told so many times.
Here is the advice she received from three successful CEOs.
Your Story is Everything
Kara Goldin, CEO of Hint Water, founded her company as a creative way to break a diet coke addiction. She has told this story over and over again in the news, and she will continue to tell it as long as she owns the company. She explained that the story is completely relatable. She said, “people know my story and we have that connection.” The fact that this story has been told over and over again is completely irrelevant to her marketing or publicity potential.
Think of your brand as a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Your audience doesn’t care that they’ve seen it a million times. They dressed up for this. They want to throw rice during the wedding scene and dance to the “Time Warp.” Nobody wants to see Dr. Frank-N-Furter put on a tasteful robe and sit demurely in the corner.
While your story is the most important part of a solid PR plan, it’s important that you present the story in a strategic way. Katia Beauchamp, Founder of Birchbox, hailed PR as her company’s core growth mechanism. In the very early days, she hired an accomplished publicist who strategically laid out Birchbox’s story to unfold in the media. Birchbox has continued this strategy. “Each year,” she explained, “we sit down and craft the arc of our story.” Once the outline is defined, the story is crafted.
You can manage your story’s strategy in a million different ways from social media campaigns and news segments to advertorials, commercials, and public events. Just make sure you are sharing the details thoughtfully and with a specific agenda.
You Are the Best Spokesperson For Your Brand
Randi Zuckerberg, Founder of Zuckerberg Media, made it clear that the CEO is the best spokesperson for any brand. After all, who knows your company, your story, or your motivations better than you? Since you are the best spokesperson, you should be the face of your company. When you’re the face of your company, you get the added bonus of developing a personal brand (alongside your company brand). If you ever decide to start a new company or take on a new project, you will already have credibility within your current audience.
It’s the same reason I will watch anything with J.J. Abrams’ name on it. I even watched all 85 minutes of Cloverfield. (Ah, the power of a strong personal brand.)
Whether you decide to hire a PR team or work as your own head of publicity to gain visibility and success, remember these words of wisdom. Start with a relatable story, find ways to creatively and strategically share your story, and then build a brand around yourself and your company simultaneously. You won’t win favor with everyone, but you will gain visibility within your chosen audience and you’ll learn the valuable lesson that PR is never the result of luck: it is the result of hard work, creativity, and a lot of planning.
*I originally wrote this piece for INC after watching these fantastic women CEOs speak at an intimate Forbes Women event. We get fed so much business BS in our daily lives based on people’s egos; it was pretty wonderful to be in a nurturing room, full of successful leaders who truly sought to give the audience the best PR advice for startups that would actually lead to growth. Aaaaaaand I may or may not have a girl crush on Randi Zuckerberg.