For Tech Start-Ups: Review of PR Session at SXSWi

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  • March 12, 2012
  • Starr Million Baker

Saturday morning, day 2 (or the first full day 1) of SXSWi. Daughter 1 off to dance class, daughter 2 snuggled in with Dad, I headed downtown for a panel from four leaders of the PR agency world (one being my former boss, Gary Stockman, CEO of Porter Novelli). I was thinking I would hear something about “the changing world of PR” or some other battle lessons learned by the “big guys.” I did not think I would be third in a line of about 50 people waiting to get into an already packed room at 15 minutes till go-time. It became a one-in-one-out situation, but I made it in 5 minutes after start (apparently the guy at the door took pity on me – I *might* have looked ready to cry at the prep I had done to get there and the thought of missing my target). 

Instead of your basic “lessons learned” the panelists critiqued the handling of PR by companies American Airlines, Lowes and Netflix. An interesting approach that kept the audience engaged due to a common experience with each brand, this allowed the panelists to share some broadbased insight. I do believe there was a frustration among the crowd though who thought these brand critiques had nothing at all to do with their business, their start-up. After all, small companies looking to use PR to advance their own brands WAY out number the big brands of the world doing their thing with PR as one tool in their toolbox. 

PR leaders talk comms

For those tech start-ups, entreprenuers, and small company owners in the crowd, this is what I heard that can also apply to you: 

– Incorporate communications FROM THE BEGINNING. We are communicating in real time these days – we don’t have the opportunity to react in days or weeks, but rather must do so in minutes or hours. If you know your communication plan, messages, objectives from the start, you’ll be able to move as fast as any news cycle, any crisis, any opportunity that comes your way.

– Talk like humans. This cannot be overstated. Get out of your own head, out of your own bubble, and speak English. This will serve you will no matter your company size, no matter your business. “Tech talk” is REALLY old and overdone. 

– Don’t rely just on mainstream media to tell your story. Find those online influencers (and those real-life influencers in the communities you serve) that will be brand advocates for you. These are people that are passionate about the problem you’re solving, and even if you’re figuring out a bigger badder SQL database, there is a DBA somewhere that is going to be PSYCHED about that. Find him. 

– Integrate your communications. Even for a one-product start-up, this is a necessity. When you launch, you’ll have the press release and the mainstream media coverage, but don’t forget to update your website, email your customers (or potential customers) – hit all of your audiences where they live, all at the same time. 

– Listen, listen, listen. This goes back to getting out of your own bubble a bit, but if you aren’t listening you are not only going to hurt yourself on the communication front, but you might even miss that you’re creating a solution for a problem people don’t think is that big of a deal. Listening will serve you well in all aspects of your business, and communications professionals can help you figure out the best tools. 

– Lastly, be consistent with what you say AND what you do, over time. Perhaps you’ll have an awesome launch with excellent media coverage, but you’ve got to keep up the communication and the engagement on a daily basis to be successful and build a brand that anyone cares about.

Other good stuff in here