Startups make mistakes with PR.
That's a given.
They're run by humans - at least for the time being.
The fact is, startups, especially in B2B tech, can't avoid making mistakes. But they may be able to avoid making them again.
And better yet, with the right resources and access to information, they can learn what public relations failures others have made and avoid making the same mistakes at all.
If you're a public relations professional at a B2B tech startup, the first thing you want to do is avoid making a mistake, since by nature, what you are doing is "public."
You don't want it to get out.
In this article, I will cover the top 3 mistakes that B2B tech startups make with PR.
Hopefully, you can use the information provided here to get ahead and stop an error from happening.
Why You Need a Startup PR Strategy
Before we get into the top 3 mistakes that B2B tech startups make with PR, let's talk about the elephant in the room.
You. Yeah, it's you.
You're the PR agency hiring manager at your tech startup.
On a team of probably less than twenty, there are not a whole host of people who have hired PR firms, managed, or worked with PR firms. And, if there are, they all have had different experiences, at various stages of growth, at various companies.
What to do?
Lean on friends at other B2B tech startups (or your investors if you have them) to guide you through the process. The "RFP" (aka request for proposal) often isn't an option.
This is because startups are so busy running their business that they don't have the time to mind-meld the executives to focus on why they need PR and what they might hope to accomplish.
Often, if a startup does send out an RFP, it's more focused on the state of the business and one business need than it is on brand positioning, targeting, and strategy.
Most B2B tech startups still think that PR in itself can be operated within a vacuum, but this is not so.
For only so long will a hired PR firm achieve any objectives if not tied to marketing and readied to help meet business objectives. B2B tech startups always need to keep their business strategy top of mind.
Think of it this way: if you want to travel somewhere, there is an X factor of dependencies that need to be in place to reach your goal.
You need transportation.
You need clothes and other necessities.
And, most importantly, you'll need to know where you are going.
Do you just get into the car, plane, train, or boat and go? No.
You have a plan.
PR needs to be a part of your B2B tech startup marketing strategy as much as any one of your dependencies takes part in helping you reach your destination.
Now, let's get on with the show!
What's the #1 mistake B2B tech startups make?
3 PR Mistakes to Avoid
Number One: Hiring a PR Agency When the B2B Tech Startup Thinks They Have News
I've seen it repeatedly.
A B2B tech startup wants to "launch."
They think they have a ship data for their product or solution.
They think they have a beta customer on board to speak to it.
They think they have messaging wrapped around all of it so they're ready to go out of the gate.
Oh, heck no. It's like walking into a kitchen and being told, "Hey, there's food in the fridge. Go make dinner."
What? With what? How?
If I polled a bunch of people in public relations, they would argue that the first mistake the B2B tech startups make is hiring a PR firm too soon, but guess what? These companies are always in launch mode.
There is no one launch.
From the soft launch to the hard launch and in between, what matters is that the startup has a market position (aka problem they can solve) and can communicate how uniquely they are doing it, with which employees, where, and for whom.
Simply hiring a PR firm because you want to get the word out about one single product or platform is like betting on the first horse out of the gate.
Does anyone know anything about this horse? How was it bred, by whom, where?
The process is quite like speed reading.
You cannot expect a person to speed read by just picking up a book and start reading. They need context.
You must ask them to read the front of the book, the foreword, intro, and table of contents. They also have to read the back cover.
Once they have a sound footing for what's to come, can they only pick it up and quickly read through it.
Then they get it.
Number Two: Managing Public Relations by Committee
It's the near-death experience of working at a B2B tech startup, everyone is an expert at everything… but they're not.
Even worse, PR can be subjective.
Now, I don't want to say that it is because I do not want to speak in absolute terms about a practice that many learn on the job, much like an apprentice learns a skilled trade.
So often, as the PR practitioner learns, so do the people around them.
Most executives who have touched PR suddenly think that they are experts at it, knowing how to craft messaging that will resonate with audiences, how to pitch, secure media, and follow up to maintain long-term relationships.
However, while some executives do have a knack for PR and are quite masterful, when public relations is done in committee, it is to no avail because there is often no fact-based leadership.
Instead, the majority of decisions are based on gut intuition, and that's not good.
In this day and age where most things are available online and "data is the new oil," one can glean from other's experiences, as well as conduct informational interviews to get insight into how to strategize and plan.
Just because a room of people agree on how to write a startup press release does not mean it will resonate with the media.
When developing any press strategy, historical context must be taken into effect.
Now, of course, post-pandemic, a B2B tech startup will be stressed to provide data-based information about how a previous event could mirror another.
Still, even market conditions, industry analyst input, and studies can be more effective to help guide the PR direction than a quorum of Kool-Aid drinkers.
Number Three: Believing PR is Something That it is Not
We're at a tipping point in the PR sector.
Digital marketing agencies are doing "PR."
SEO agencies are doing "PR."
Digital marketing agencies have come to understand how powerful content marketing has become.
They either have relationships with online publications looking for content, or the digital marketing agencies are launching their own online publications and social media handles to carry their clients' messages.
SEO firms have shown a lot of success in link-building strategies.
Many have lists of online publications that are high-ranking sites on the internet. Simply put, they can help their clients get listed on those sites and link back to their client websites.
That's PR too!
Social media is PR, right? Of course, it is.
Any time a business puts itself out there, one can argue that they are relating to the public.
But, then what is PR? What can PR actually do for a business?
PR builds credibility from third parties. That's it.
Sure, a B2B tech startup can write articles and get them placed online.
It can pay (or not) to get listed on other high-ranking sites that link back.
But, aside from content marketing and SEO, B2B tech startups need to focus on using PR to validate their brand narrative. How better to do that than having others write about their companies?
But, that's not where they are now.
Startups in this field lump anything and everything online and off into PR.
Sure, as I said above, it's all PR at the end of the day, but startups need to understand how each digital channel can provide value, and how each partner they rely on is pulling their weight to help the brand meet their business objectives.
PR firms have traditional PR pros who secure mentions of companies in the press. They can execute digital marketing and content programs.
However, if B2B tech startups continue to lump up all those practices into one, a PR program may weigh heavier in an area that may not benefit the current needs of the organization.
PR Tips for Startups: Final Thoughts
While these three items are unorthodox from others who have written on the subject, B2B tech startups need to check themselves when hiring and working with a PR firm.
With good outside counsel and a steady hand, brands in this space can learn to avoid making these mistakes and costing themselves precious resources and time.