When is the time right for PR?

 In Public Relations

Are we there yet?

When you are building a start-up, sometimes it’s difficult to judge exactly when it is the right moment to engage in public relations efforts. Coordinated and strategic PR can increase your exposure and help you win new customers, investors, partners and fans. However, companies who engage with the media too soon run the risk of wasting all of their effort.


Media exposure at just the right time

When engaging in PR activities, timing it right is critical. Technica alumni client, Albeo Technologies is a perfect example of right timing. When Albeo hired Technica, they had a variety of products, customers, awards, and a market that was growing. Their goal was to reach more customers, sell more products, win more awards, and eventually provide an exit for their investors.

The Technica team was able to take all of these assets and parlay them into a variety of media coverage over the course of 2012. This effort culminated in the acquisition of Albeo by GE Lighting. It’s been called by some in the industry as one of the only notable wins for the LED lighting market since Cree went public in 1996.

When I give my talk “Launch Your Start-up Like a Rocket”  to technology entrepreneurs and incubators, I like to list five aspects I feel companies should have before engaging in PR. If you have more, please add them to the comments section.

  1. Technology/Product is validated
  2. Data from pilot or other tests available for public disclosure
  3. Ready for customer conversations
  4. Partner collaboration signed
  5. Receiving requests for interviews

Points 1 and 2 (technology validation and data) are critical if you are going to prove to reporters that you have something worth their time. If you are already receiving requests for interviews, (Point 5) then you know you have something they want. Now might be the time to be more strategic about your exposure.

Points 3 and 4 (customers or partners) are centered on your ability to gain true ROI from your PR efforts. If you do not have the capacity to turn incoming calls into leads and revenue, then your PR efforts become little more than an ego boost.

Typically, I recommend start-ups have at least one, if not two of these attributes, in addition to the capacity to engage PR efforts for a minimum of six months. The six-month time frame allows your PR professionals enough time to lay the groundwork and build momentum for your company.

Media exposure too soon

Before founding Technica, I worked at a cleantech PR firm in San Francisco. There I ran a team to gain exposure for a young wind energy start-up. They had just validated their technology and were looking for their next round of funding. We landed them coverage in Scientific American, USA Today and the cover of Design Engineering, among other press.

With all the media attention, they started getting calls from all over the world. They had something people desperately needed for their wind turbines and they wanted to buy at that very moment. However, the start-up was not manufacturing yet, and they were not targeting the market segment that was contacting them so desperately.  As such, they could not fulfill any of the potential orders. After a while, the company actually asked us to pull back the PR efforts to give them time to catch up with their business strategy. With all of the effort and amazing coverage, they were right back where they started. It turned out to be too soon for them to engage the media.

Media exposure too late

Often start-ups are in stealth along with competitors. The first person to emerge from stealth with a new technology category typically garners all of the top tier press right away. The “shiny and new” tech story only happens once. Companies that launch from stealth later are measured up against the first mover. They have to prove their worth even more and “further the story” for reporters, offering new angles for them to gain coverage. If companies cannot do this, the typical reporter response is, “I already covered that.” Companies that are second and third movers in a category need PR even more than the first company out of the gate. But that’s a topic for another blog.

Picking the right time to start PR is when your company’s technology preparation meets the opportunity of the market.  Keeping the five points above in mind as a start-up matures allows company executives the option of planning and executing on a PR strategy most effectively.

Even if you are a little early or a little late to the party, good PR professionals can still work with your media assets (and help you develop new ones) to make the whole PR effort a success.  It’s like bringing a main dish to a party, instead of a store bought cheese plate. You are more likely to get invited back if you can be depended on to bring food people like.

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