Should startups do PR? Early-stage startups tend to view public relations one of two ways. It's often seen as the customer acquisition savior or a worthless distraction.
For most startups there are a number of reasons to do PR, but it's important to evaluate why you are seeking press. Like all other activities it's important to start with a business objective.
The de facto #1 reason that most early stage startups do PR is gaining more customers. For some startups getting tech press and then going "viral" is the totality of their marketing strategy. If only it were that simple.
Long gone are the days that a hit in TechCrunch was the path to a startup success. Instead of publishing five articles a day, Techcrunch now publishes 50. And now there's a growing multitude of tech publications competing for eyeballs. Depending on the nature of your product, you can expect only few thousand visits from a TechCrunch article.
If customer acquisition is your PR goal, be prepared for the long haul. Build out a strategic plan with several concerted campaigns throughout the year. Be sure to look beyond tech press at trade magazines, print publications, speaking opportunities, and authored articles.
Fundraising is all about momentum and signal. Getting positive write-ups in tech publications can add to your story and show momentum. Positive coverage may not spawn inbound interest, but it's a nice proof point. If you are raising, focus on publications that angels and VCs read on a regular basis.
Investors aren't the only once who look for proof points and signals. I've seen multiple instances where recent coverage has increased the quality (and quantity) of applicants in the pipeline. The same goes for current employees, morale is improved when people recognize or comment upon their startup's shirt when they go to lunch or when they're able to post an article to their Facebook feed.
Tech publication logos are ubiquitous on startup sites. They add to the cachet of the product/service and they aid conversion. Knowing that a startup appeared in New York Times doesn't really mean anything, but it does alleviate fears that many visitors may have with trusting a startup.
Like all activities and efforts, PR is something a startup must evaluate harshly in terms of cost/benefit analysis. What am I trying to accomplish and will this help me achieve my goal? By determining the business objective before any PR efforts, it will be easier to focus on creating a campaign that helps you meet your goals.