Top PR Tips for Technology Start-Ups on a Shoestring Budget

Marketing Solutions That Work

Longing for recognition, customer acquisition, VC interest?  Have a great product app or service that no one knows about?  Tired of "Shark Tank" throwing money at ten year olds?   You are not alone. There are some inexpensive, simple marketing tactics that you can deploy to help differentiate your innovation and create awareness for your start-up.

First, decide what your marketing needs are and how to fulfill them.  Looking for more customers?  Has your competitor gained the upper hand? Is your distribution channel clogged?  Want engineers? Sales force needs some oomph? Having supply chain issues?  Network integration problems?  Your cloud strategy beginning to drift?  Software becoming too soft? Suffering from platform plateau?

What is the best marketing path to resolving these issues? Spend big bucks on an ad campaign? Impress with a huge trade show booth and a magician? Be the sultan of social media? Deploy billboards and banner ads over the beach?

Gaze into the corporate mirror. Do you tout your innovation? Brag about your customers? Celebrate employee successes? Praise your partners?  Leverage trends in your industry? If not, you are overlooking key elements to resolving your marketing issues which also happen to be the stepping stones to building a low cost PR campaign, the best most economical method to gaining invaluable media visibility. The best part of a PR program is the message is not seen coming from you like an ad is. Your story is being told by a third party, the journalist, often with endorsements from customers, industry analysts, academics, book authors and others not directly affiliated with you. Your become part of the influential daily news stream.

Do You Have a Secret?

Do you want to know a secret? While you don't have to give out your code, formula, or other secret sauce, there are many tips and tricks for launching PR campaigns and working with the media. Successful organizations regularly leverage industry news and wield it into powerful marketing messages.  PR allows start-ups to compete on a level playing field with Fortune 500 firms, if they make their "story" interesting and compelling.

(I know. I have represented firms with no customers, no trade show or conference budgets, no analyst relationships and no advertising, yet enabled them to receive ongoing trade coverage, IT industry stories and business news regardless of the medium-radio, TV, blogs, tweets, newspapers, magazines and more.)  Need a large budget for all that? No. Some PR budgets are as small as a few thousand a quarter for a bare bones campaign that can help drive a basic marketing effort  while others can run into tens of thousands of dollars if you are a multinational with a global story to tell across numerous markets, addressing diverse audiences.

What Is Public Relations?

Public relations can act as a slingshot for start-ups and is often the difference between a failing business and one that catapults you to success.   If fast business growth is what you're looking for, enlisting a public relations firm is a smart step to take. Or you can do it yourself when time permits.

Public relations spreads information from your business to the general public. This aspect of a business strategy is extremely important for building and maintaining a relationship with your target audience while helping attract partners, employees, and investors.

A public relations firm is a team of professionals who help up and coming businesses build a media reputation. They analyze your business goals and target audience, and create a business story to present to journalists.  The agency can spread your story in a variety of ways through press releases, media pitches, customer case studies, interviews and social media. Because public relations firms have connections with journalists, they are effective middlemen.  As professional "story tellers", PR firms can "package" your business message and broadcast it in a compelling way.

Digital Campaigns vs. Traditional PR

In our digitized world, the use of online media-ezines, texting, electronic newsletters, videos, blogs, podcasts, webcasts, web sites, create a presence for your business that significantly increases your reach beyond the past print and broadcast outlets. These digital media outlets are also becoming increasingly influential and should not be overlooked.  The social media boom has enabled news to be spread around the world in minutes with a 24x7 news cycle.  It gives traditional PR a multiplier effect, enabling your company's news to be published across numerous media organizations' websites which can then be cross-posted, re-tweeted and otherwise repeated to your benefit.  There are numerous ways to spread news, if you know how.

While traditional PR professionals focus more on relationship building with journalists, digital PR professionals engage in technologies such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) by embedding word and phrase "tags" in your text.  These links attract Google's search engine to the words you tag to increase the likelihood of them being identified in searches so more prospects can learn about your organization.

Digital PR is a fast way to gain name recognition, but combining traditional and digital approaches is the most effective way to maximize exposure. However, knowing your audience, targeting specific outlets and building connections that will create mutually beneficial relationships should be your first priority. You can do this by setting up meetings with journalists at industry conferences.

Don't be too concerned over whether to use traditional email or other contact platforms to reach journalists.  The message that you create is more crucial because it's how influencers hear the company's voice and decide if it's something they're interested in reporting on.  Not a great communicator? PR firms will help with speech writing, copywriting, and press release drafting in a way that reflects your company's image.

An experienced PR firm can also come up with crisis management plans in the event of reputation damaging company events such as a product recall, environmental disaster, fraud, competitive misinformation, government investigation, scandal and more. Crisis management experts are trained to distil facts from rumor and develop a communications strategy to contain the conflagration engulfing your organization. They can identify steps such as identifying a credible spokesperson for corporate public apologies, leveraging favorable comments from public officials and identifying other credible sources of comment to the media.

How to Qualify a PR Agency

Hire an agency with experienced practitioners.  Before you sign on the dotted line, ask if the presentation team is the same that will serve you on a daily basis.  Find out how many other agency accounts they represent so you can determine how much time can really be spent representing you. Many firms send in the CEO or senior vice president for the presentation. Once the contract is signed, you later learn an intern will be representing you. You should not have to pay top dollar for little or no experience so make sure your fee reflects the appropriate level of representation.

(I have seen PR firms tell clients that "they are checking the market" to identify where your organization fits in which can take many weeks or even months. I took a Silicon Valley startup away from a large NYC PR agency who was paying 20K per month with no press coverage while some intern was "checking the market" which means she was probably working on other accounts and had no time for the current one!)

Another route for smaller firms and start-ups is to hire "boutique" firms often managed by seasoned pros that worked at the big PR agencies and have long industry ties. Many of the best are former journalists who can deftly spot news trends, quickly size up and tie your organization into the story. These boutique shops can provide the same services as the larger agencies, but at lower costs. Why pay the overhead costs of 15 vice presidents who you will never meet in tony marquee offices in London, San Francisco, New York and Paris?

In addition to media relations, experienced practitioners should also be able to provide industry analyst relations. These key influencers at Gartner, IDC, Frost and smaller firms can wield a great deal of influence in helping technology start-ups and mid-sized organizations gain traction.

Leverage Your Customers

Leverage your customers!  While getting your clients to agree to a testimonial is not always easy, there are many approaches, ranging from building customer red carpet programs to simply working with a few select customers on a smaller, more personal level.  Remember that you are asking for a favor and should consider offering one. Perhaps a slight discount, priority service or a rewards program would be appropriate.

An experienced agency with customer relations who understands the nuances of customer relations can assist here.  This team should also gain the support of the sales force and work closely with them to build trust and ease potential concerns over contacting their hard won clients.  A sales organization will benefit since customer testimonials will help them attract others.

Know How You Are Being Charged

It is important to identify how you are being charged. Are you paying by the hour, by a specific project or monthly?  The worst arrangements are hourly. A PR firm can simply advise you your allotted hours have been unexpectedly reached and charge you more for additional work that month.

If you pay a retainer in which agencies are required to meet certain goals and timelines, you will get more for your money as the agency has the onus on them to perform and deliver, no matter how long it takes. Also have a timeline and know what to expect by when.


Not sure how to start the process, feel free to contact me at [email protected]. I might or might not be the right agency for you, but I will do my best to listen and put you in good hands.

More Stories By William Madaras

Located in San Diego, Madaras is a veteran PR practitioner, represented numerous global B2B and B2C technology companies. His experience includes healthcare, open source, consumer electronics, cyber security, Internet products, medical, and enterprise software across many industries. He specializes in creating awareness and thought leadership for start-ups and mid-sized organizations. He helped introduce open source technology companies as far back as the mid-nineties. He has represented numerous global B2B and B2C technology companies. Madaras has taken numerous start-up organizations from relative obscurity to industry recognition. He has launched European and Middle-Eastern based technology providers into the U.S. market and has led venture capital campaigns for start-ups. Madaras was awarded the coveted NY Times PR Award for the best press release and is a former journalist. His clients range from healthcare organizations such as Zoeticx, EMR Consultants and CoraNET Solutions and has represented companies including, Sony, Panasonic, the Government of Israel, Compuware and others.

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