If you’re an entrepreneur in the early stages of building your company, crafting your PR and marketing strategy needs to come sooner rather than later. Right around the time you’ve hammered out your primary objectives – which might include growing market awareness ahead of a product launch, generating leads for a beta program or courting early-round investors – you should be thinking about how PR and marketing programs can help get you where you need to go. Unfortunately, too many startups jump into haphazard PR activity without a clear understanding of why they’re doing it or how they’ll ultimately measure it. When you’re juggling multiple roles in your startup, you can’t afford to waste time on activities that don’t make sense for an early-stage business and that can’t be tied to any clear return on investment (ROI).
To make sure the time you put into PR is well spent, follow these four steps for laying out a manageable, measurable program:
1. If you have limited resources, focus on just one or two activities.
Here’s an idea I encounter often from early-stage entrepreneurs: comprehensive public relations and marketing campaigns are too expensive or too time-consuming, so it’s best to avoid any PR or marketing activity altogether. In a way, I understand this. However, I also know from experience some of the best campaigns start with just one or two basic activities.
Consider which activities will support your strategic business goals and fall under your team’s strengths. If you’ve already developed your product or service and you’re preparing to go to market, your PR efforts should be focused on test-driving your messaging with industry influencers and analyst communities who can help build your market positioning. If you’re not quite ready for that step yet, but you know it will be important to have market authority and an audience before you get there, you might dedicate your early PR efforts toward creating inbound traffic to your site through media coverage focused on industry, management or leadership topics; blog content; social media; and other organic methods. Think about where your company is today, where you need to be in six months and then commit to one or two relevant tactics. Set specific, consistent weekly, monthly or quarterly output goals, and determine which metrics you’ll use to measure their impact.
2. Select strategies that complement each other, support your business goals and lead to a call to action.
Every aspect of your PR and marketing campaign – even if it’s a modest one – should work with all the others. If your primary goal right now is building market awareness, think about which thought-leadership tactics you can pull off with the resources you have now. That might include amassing a library of content for members of your leadership team on their individual LinkedIn pages, placing contributed articles under your byline with targeted publications or pitching yourself as an expert media source when news breaks in your industry.
Set a realistic timeline for your efforts (you won’t build authority overnight or with one press hit), and then measure results monthly. If awareness is the primary goal, assess not only your coverage count, but also the views and engagement that coverage is getting on publishers’ sites, how often it’s being shared on social, whether the traffic it’s driving to your site is on the rise, how much time visitors spend on your site once they reach it, which pages they look at, and whether they respond to any calls to action you might have there – whether that’s “sign up for our beta,” “download our white paper,” “take a demo” or something else that supports the primary marketing goal your startup is trying to reach right now.
3. Identify the tools you’ll use to measure success.
PR and marketing are absolutely measurable at every stage of a business; don’t settle for results you can’t quantify, even if the program you’re executing is limited in scope. You can use tools such as HubSpot, Marketo, Google Analytics and others to assess the progress of your campaigns. As you dive into the metrics, ask hard questions:
- Are we reaching the audiences that matter most at this stage of our startup?
- How are visitors engaging with our earned and owned media?
- Have we asked them to convert in some way, and are they doing so?
- Do we have a plan for continued engagement with any leads that have come to our website or any followers that are paying attention on social media?
- How will the strategies and tactics we’ve focused on so far support the next stage of our marketing efforts?
Numbers alone don’t reveal much without appropriate context or actions that peg them to positive developments. For example, if your website traffic from LinkedIn has decreased just as you’ve started publishing more LinkedIn content or engaging with specific influencers, don’t panic. Take a look at the average time visitors from LinkedIn are staying on your site. It’s likely higher than in previous months. Quality traffic and engaged viewers are far more important than the quantity of viewers.
It’s also important to determine which team member is responsible for executing and measuring the results, and how those results will be presented to the rest of the team. The key takeaways from the metrics might be valuable for other areas of the business. For example, if you’re at the point where you’re selling a product or service and a large percentage of leads are coming through your blog, your head of sales might be more willing to help with blog content or eager to learn how to leverage it to close deals.
4. Move forward with campaigns that perform – and change ones that don’t.
The final piece of the early-stage PR and marketing puzzle is knowing when to build on something that’s working and when to change course. By reviewing your measurement daily, weekly and monthly, you will start to develop patterns so you can measure against your average benchmarks. If you are seeing positive results from specific strategies, think about expanding beyond the basics. However, if you’re six months into a PR program and the metrics are all negative or stagnant, something needs to change, especially if your strategic goals remain as far away as ever.
Founders have a lot of theories about startup PR and marketing strategy and execution. The realities are grounded in manageable, measurable programs and goals. If you can carve out activity your team can support at this stage of your business, map it to your strategic business objectives, measure your results and adapt as you go along, you’ll reap returns on your PR and marketing investments – no matter what size they might be.
Photo by: Anssi Koskinen