The Top 10 PR Disasters All Startups Need to Avoid

PAN Media

This post is courtesy of Seth Porges and originally appeared on Forbes.

May 17, 2013

It ain’t easy being a startup. Without a massive marketing budget, smaller companies often find themselves relying on the media to get the word out. While this is no easy task for even the biggest and most polished companies, for shoestring operations, it can be absolutely daunting—especially if none of the founders have any experience dealing with the press. Fortunately, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years as both a technology journalist and a startup founder, it’s that most common PR mistakes are pretty easy to avoid. So whether you’re able to hire a a PR pro—or have to DIY the job—here are 10 of the most common PR mistakes that all startups should seek to avoid.

Going Too Big With The Launch Party The startup world is riddled with memories of great parties thrown by now-dead companies. Press aren’t stupid. If you’re a no-name company (and don’t happen to be backed by Sean Parker), coming out of the gates with a Gatsby-esque rager will likely make you look like you’re overcompensating for something. Go too big, and you can expect cocktail chatter to shift from “These guys have a pretty cool product” too “I wonder how much seed funding they have left after this shindig?” And while liquid nitrogen-infused drinks and aerialists are certainly fun things to have at your event, you want people to walk away with the product itself on top of mind—not the fire-breathing stilt-walker. “Yeah, press generally like events—especially if it’s in a cool location and all their other journalist friends are attending,” says Elliot Tomaeno, founder of startup-focused Astrsk PR. “But a big party won’t make your product suck less. If it needs work, no launch party, no swag, no celeb can make it cool.”

Following Up More Than You Should Oh, the dreaded follow up to the follow up. Take it from me—there’s nothing more irritating to a journalist than seeing the same pushy name pop up in their inbox over and over again. Don’t mistake annoyance for persistance: Such behavior may even prevent journalists who might otherwise want to cover you in the future from doing so. “Sometimes founders and PR pros forget that it’s not a journalist’s job to answer email,” says Courtney Boyd Myers, founder of audience.io and a longtime technology journalist. Effective PR is essentially inception: It’s your job to plant the seed of an idea in a writer’s head. Whenever the appropriate story comes along for them to cover you? Well, that’s up to them and their editors. While that may be at launch, if there isn’t a huge hook to drive pageviews (such as a celebrity founder or investor), you might have better luck waiting until they inevitably get to a future roundup of similar products that fit into a burgeoning category. The moral: Don’t push too much.

Making One Of These Simple Email Mistakes I think I’ll just list a bunch of the deal-breakers I’ve recently come across in press releases: 1) Writing emails or press releases that include simple grammar or spelling mistakes. 2) Using a different font or format to write a brief personalized message above an obviously cut-and-pasted form pitch. 3) Addressing the email “Dear [insert name]” (I’ve seriously gotten this one more than you can imagine). 4) Sending emails with massive, unsolicited attachments. Not only does it make your message more likely to lose a battle to spam and virus filters, but bloated attachments can seriously irritate journalists who might have to deal with stingy IT departments’ storage limits. (Hat tip: For many more simple email mistakes, check out the Twitter feed @DearPR.)

Making It Difficult To Find Your Contact Info It never ceases to amaze me how difficult some companies make it for journalists to find the best media contact. It should be incredibly obvious within 15 seconds of visiting your site how to reach you for press-related information. And while companies love to use web forms to take incoming emails, I can say from experience that many journalists view these as black holes from which their under-deadline message will never be read. And do I need to rant about companies that require passwords to reach a “press” section of their site? Deadlines are tight, and a journalist may not be willing or able to jump through such hurdles in order to cover your company. Let’s put it this way: If Apple can put its high-resolution images on its site without requiring a password to access them, you can.

Hoping An Outlet Will Pick Up Its Competitors’ Scraps “You can’t give a story to a smaller outlet and then hope their larger, perhaps more desirable competitor will pick up that same story even though its already been covered,” says Mallory Blair, co-founder at Small Girls PR. Exactly.

Not Understanding Lead Times While it can be hard for a startup to have all their moving parts planned months in advance of launch, it can be even harder for a monthly magazine writers—who need to prepare stories many months in advance—to cover a product that will be old news when the issue hits stands. If you can give a long-lead writer an advance scoop (even under embargo or NDA), then doing so greatly enhances your chance of coverage.

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