If you are in start-up mode and want to launch a new product, secure private funding or bring visibility to your company, then public relations is an essential tool for your box. But how do you get started if you have few resources? Here are some tips for things you can do on your own, without the help of a PR agency or expert, to get visibility…

If you are in start-up mode and want to launch a new product, secure private funding or bring visibility to your company, then public relations is an essential tool for your box. But how do you get started if you have few resources? Here are some tips for things you can do on your own, without the help of a PR agency or expert, to get visibility for your business with potential customers or financiers.

Disclaimer – I don’t take credit for these tips. They come directly from professionals via this on-demand webinar: PR 101 for Start-Ups presented by Lisa Throckmorton, EVP, SpeakerBox Communications and Jonathon Perrelli, Managing Partner, Fortify.vc.  It’s well worth an hour of your time.  Here’s a quick summary:

Make Sure Your Product is Ready

It’s just common sense: before you engage in any communications push, make sure your product is ready. Online content has a long shelf life, so it’s important to make sure your product is tested, validated and up to snuff.

If you are not there yet and are planning on entering a hot market, such as high-tech, consider announcing a beta. This gives the media an opportunity to preview you and generate some buzz. Make it clear that your product is still in development and have realistic expectations about the kind of coverage you’ll get. Remember, you can’t control the media – they may not say what you want them to say, “so your product better not suck,” explains Jonathon Perrelli. “You need a good beta.”

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Messaging

PR is no different than introducing yourself to someone at an event or trade show, so develop an elevator pitch that conveys quickly and distinctly who you are and why you matter. Equally important is tailoring that message to your audience – your pitch to an investor will be quite different than a pitch to media or potential customers. For tips on writing one, read: Why Your Business Needs an Elevator Pitch (and Tips on How to Target it to your Audience).

Take a hard look at your website, too. Visitors need to quickly understand who you are. Think about progression from your home page or landing page; include content such as video, imagery and a demo to communicate your pitch. Add a “Press Room” where you can include contact info, FAQs, team bios, news coverage, etc. – reporters will be looking for this.

Have a Communications Plan

Do you know which media you are targeting and why? Where are they getting their information? Before you invest time and money in a communications program, set aside a couple of hours to map out a plan. What tactics should you consider? Bear in mind that different business models lend themselves to different PR approaches. For example, service-based businesses can benefit from demonstrating expertise, blogging, contributing articles, speaking at events, awards and so on. Product-centric companies get more from formal product launches, product reviews and sharing data sets.

Align Your Team

If one person isn’t on board with your plan then it can really sabotage your efforts, especially for small start-ups. Convince naysayers by focusing on the meat behind your plan: why you are doing this? What results do you expect?

Unless you have a stellar CEO who can talk to every aspect of your product and business, then you’ll need to line up more than one person to help tell your story. Identify your team’s experts and refine the message they’re going to tell. For example, a software developer will have completely different things to say than a CEO – and media will want to hear both.

Tell a Story

What qualifies as a good story? What gets coverage and why? Remember  – it’s not about you. “Think multi-dimensionally about story and storytelling – what works for one publication is not going to work for another,” explains Lisa Throckmorton. “It’s really important to understand the media outlets you’re approaching… their mission, and the audience it serves.” Follow the media that matter – read and subscribe to news feeds so that you have a sense for where you might fit and how to tailor your message. “The media is not going to cover you if they don’t think you’re right for their audience.

Be prepared to talk about what your competitors are doing – media is always going to consider them as they write about your product. If you can, use customer stories or validation (market research will do) to support your vision, and be prepared to discuss industry trends and how you are positioned.

Use Social Media

If no one is pushing your news, use social media to push it yourself. Choose wisely – you don’t have to use all social media channels. “Think of it in terms of layers,” explains Lisa Throckmorton. 

For example, your salespeople might be pushing you to use Facebook and LinkedIn to promote your events – that’s one layer. Your PR personnel might be focused on monitoring review sites to listen and respond to what people are saying – that’s another layer. As your business grows, add another layer (consider it the “Marketing Layer”), using such sites such as YouTube, Digg, Reddit, etc. to place content, improve SEO and drive traffic back to your website. At the top layer, tap your senior executives to write blogs and develop a Twitter profile to raise awareness and share their expertise.

“You don’t have to do it all,” explains Lisa Throckmorton, “think about it in increments and what the right choices are for your business.

Using Your Budget

So how do you stay within budget? Surprisingly, start-ups have a variety of options that grow as you grow. For example, if your business is in a pre-funding phase or bringing in less than $250k, spend money where it matters on things such as video and your product launch. Consider bringing in an intern to help you manage day-to-day tactics such as social media posts and monitoring. Tap your mentors if you can and use them as sounding boards, ask them to review your messaging.

As you approach the $1 million revenue mark, start spending money on freelancers and contractors. Once you cross over into growth mode, you can really look to hire multiple people or bring in agencies to help you manage your communications.

For more tips, check out the webinar PR 101 for Start-Ups for yourself.

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