Posted On December 6th, 2016 by Crowded Ocean
A VC partner whom we greatly respect, and who shared some valuable lessons that we incorporated into our book (that’s The Ultimate Startup Guide—which we’re shamelessly promoting here—due out Jan 23) approached us a while back with an interesting proposal. In conversations with him about past shared clients, we talked about what it takes to get founders’ attention—to really make them commit to what they’re all about and translate that essence into the core positioning of their company. And we all agreed that it was the press release. Powerpoint can be changed, whiteboards are too vague. But seeing your company, product and news and the claims behind them in a legal-looking doc—that seems to get the attention.
Company building by press release
So this VC told us that, for his next company, he wants us to come in and do our regular workshop. But, unlike most of our engagements, where we come in 3-4 months before the company (or product) launch, he wanted to do the workshop at the company’s founding. Then based on what we heard in the workshop, we were to write (with the involvement of the team) the press release for the new company and its product. And then he wanted his team to work to make the claims and promises in the press release a reality.
Expand a tactic of PR firms and web design firms
It turns out that this is a tried-and-true planning practice already employed by many public relations firms and web design firms. PR firms will ask the management team during the message planning phase to identify the key headlines and takeaways for the reader of targeted media that you want to compel to cover your news. This exercise can help focus everyone on simplifying your message and making it consistent while also identifying different approaches or angles to your story.
Web design firms typically have an input session where they will ask the management team to identify the key takeaways of a visitor to your future website. They are looking for words, tone, attitude and treatments. And some of this is the “same stuff” that writing that press release early will help identify and make consistent across your marketing tool set.
Posted On May 12th, 2015 by Crowded Ocean
We’re proud to launch our 36th startup. That’s PowWow Mobile, a pioneer in enterprise application transformation that will be showcasing its Application Transformation platform at the Citrix Synergy tradeshow in Orlando this week.
PowWow can transform any enterprise app for any mobile device in ten days. PowWow is helping enterprise IT deliver trusted, workhorse applications that are core to the business as a native mobile experience for its users. That results in tremendous cost savings and helps enterprise meet the needs of their increasingly mobile workforce.
Since stepping in as PowWow’s interim VP of marketing at the beginning of 2015, we have tapped our ecosystem of marketing partners to build a virtual marketing team of experts to position, staff and launch the company:
- Web design team – Dystrick
- Video content – Launchsquad
- PR agency – Eastwick
- Demand gen – Marketing Operations
- Design – Jer Jager
- Marketing Automation – Hubspot
And we’re pleased to be handing over the reins to the new head of marketing starting next week at PowWow Mobile. Congrats to the PowWow team. Sell, team, sell.
Posted On November 4th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean
The idea of ‘buzz’ is a topic with some of our startup clients—how to get it, how to maintain it. We tell our clients to look at the entertainment business—movies, specifically. There are perennial stars, who the public is interested in even when they don’t have a movie to promote. And then there are the ones you don’t hear from—even if they’ve got a great publicist—until they’re back in the public eye.
Take ‘Gone Girl’, which debuted last month. Ben Affleck is a perennial. Rosamund Pike, who critics are saying is an ‘undiscovered gem, wasted in her previous efforts’, could be either today’s flavor or tomorrow’s perennial.
Startups—especially at launch—are like Rosamund Pike: in the hands of a good PR firm their story translates analyst interest, media coverage, and early sales. So, naturally, they think they’re Ben Affleck. Wrong. Once the buzz dies down from the launch, it’s as much their job as the PR firm’s to create the next round of interest. And it can’t come from product releases alone (they’re too infrequent and not always that newsworthy). It comes from finding topics that they can speak, write and blog about—topics interesting enough to keep them in the public eye. It comes from becoming so expert in their area that they become a go-to source for journalists in their area.
And it means translating a company’s expertise into compelling commentary that reinforce their reputation. And it also comes from the basics of being available, credible, knowledgeable and responsive to the press when they call. Time and again, we’ve seen startup CEOs who are spread too thin and who are just too busy to respond patiently to a media inquiry. As the adage goes, you are investing in a relationship with the media, and that requires being available when they call.
In short, startup buzz is a manufactured process: it’s the PR firm’s job to manufacture it, but it’s the startup’s job to provide the raw materials. And before you decide you want to be the Ben Affleck of your industry, remember “Bennifer” and “Gigli”.
Posted On July 9th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean
Over the course of our careers, both as VPs of Marketing and with Crowded Ocean, we’ve worked with over 30 PR agencies. And while it’s sometimes difficult—and unwise—to do broad groupings, we’ve found that agencies seem to fall into two groups: those that are upstream of the client and those that are downstream.
Downstream agencies are easy to identify. They are implementers. There’s nothing negative about that description, it’s just their modus operandi. They believe that the client knows the industry better than they do, so they wait for the ideas and campaigns to flow, then they do their best to implement.
That model may work for larger companies, but startups need ‘upstream’ agencies. These agencies take their place at the big table of ideas, often taking the lead. They take a backseat to no one in terms of PR program priorities, effective strategies and how to win “hearts and minds” among the critical influencers that will shape your brand and buyer preferences.
So when evaluating your first PR partner, we tell startup leaders to ask your prospective PR partner for both their philosophy (and understanding of their role) as well as concrete examples of how they’ve generated original campaigns that yielded tangible and measurable results.
Posted On February 10th, 2014 by Crowded Ocean
We’re big fans of PR and PR firms, but it seems like the phrase ‘PR’ doesn’t sit right with many of our partner firms anymore. They re-marketed—or repositioned themselves—as a number of things, from ‘Digital Marketing Agencies’ to ‘Global Marketing Agencies.’
And while PR is still what they do, it’s only one offering on the menu. Which is their right. Except that we recommend that our startup clients use them for what they do best: PR.
In the old days, firms would call themselves “Advertising and PR”. And, as a client, we’d ask, ‘Which one is it, because they’re not that related?’ (That’s “paid” versus “earned” media in the new world.) The same logic applies today: we’re not convinced that the firm that does your PR should logically do your website—or your SEO strategy.
The firms that, in our opinion, are doing it right are the PR firms that still focus on PR but have spun other entities (Video, Content, Web Design) out as separate P&Ls. We work on a ‘best-of-breed’ philosophy when it comes to picking firms for our startup clients and haven’t seen a significant benefit—financial or in single-butt-to-kick focus—from using more than one service from our partners. Over time we may find benefits to this arrangement (perhaps all the teams come together for a single training or share ideas across boundaries), but for now it’s an open market. And we still pick our PR firms for what they can do for our clients with press, analysts and influencers.
Posted On August 5th, 2013 by Crowded Ocean
In the new reality of startup marketing today, production schedules for many priorities are contracted. A website can come to life in a matter of weeks. A product demo video can end up on Youtube overnight. Adword campaigns turn on a dime.
But meaningful results in public relations still require consistent investment over months and years. The ROI of PR for a startup can be very high. But the gestation period of that PR program is typically many months.
Too many startups—and too many PR agencies, for that matter—focus all their energy and budgets on launches. It’s very seductive to think that after a few press releases, a round of analyst briefings and maybe a press tour that the media voices that matter to your startup will “get” your story and cover your company and products. And worse, this approach often yields a form of post-partum depression, where the glory days of the launch (10 pieces of coverage) are contrasted with the dearth of follow-up stories, leading to the client falling out of love with (and often firing) their PR agency.
To earn sustained, consistent, informed coverage of your company that builds over time, your startup really has to invest valuable management resources to cultivate those press relationships over time. And that’s a problem for most startups, both financially (small budgets) and psychologically (the immediacy factor).
Once again, as boring as this reality sounds, your startup needs to invest consistently – providing relevant news, market insights, technology authority and perspective — and let time and repetition of that investment pay off to support the development of valuable press relationships.
We like to think about the ROI on PR like the ROI on a new-hire employee. First, you need to hire well. Then, the real leverage comes by investing in building their knowledge base and by bringing them to the table as a vital part of the company goals, timelines, customer development and go-to-market plans.
Posted On July 1st, 2013 by Crowded Ocean
Recently Crowded Ocean was invited to take part in a startup marketing boot camp in Boulder, CO. We shared the stage with our partner, Launchsquad, who spoke on ‘PR in the New World’. Part of their presentation was how to position your company in what they call ‘The Love Economy’. While the term may invite images of beads and Nehru jackets, the idea behind it is solid.
First off, while Launchsquad has worked with a number of high-tech clients, they also work with consumer clients, where the user experience and the role of social marketing are critical. And it all comes down to this: how do you make your company (and its products) something that customers ‘love’ and tell others about. Not ‘like.’ Love. Anything short of ‘love’, they tell their client companies, needs to be corrected. Immediately.
We live in the world of technology and enterprise products. Most users don’t ‘love’ their database or programming language or security products. But substitute ‘admire’ and you’re on the right track. Because things that get admired get recommended. And the enterprise IT world is full of CSO and CIO forums, as well as tech circles, where peer recommendation is not just the most important buying criterion, it’s the only one.
So our recommendation to our client CEOs is that they appoint themselves as the ‘Chief Admiration Officer’ of their company, that they regularly get the entire company to look at every stage of a prospect’s or customer’s interaction with the company—the website, the product interface, the support line—and ensure that they’re doing everything to create the kind of company and experience that these customers will not only admire but recommend.
Posted On March 27th, 2013 by Crowded Ocean
We’re not a PR agency, but we hire and manage agencies for virtually all of our clients. And since many of our startups are new to PR, we spend a lot of our initial time setting proper expectations on both sides and then managing to them.
On the client side, there’s always the question of why can’t they just pay for results. It’s an age-old question, but in this time of data-driven Marketing, metrics-driven marketing operations and other marketing systems, an increasingly valid one. So we try to work with our agencies to incorporate more metrics and accountability into their activities and reports.
That’s the positive side of our clients’ PR naivete—forcing agencies to move off of their traditional litany that PR is more an art than science, that ‘trust’ is a critical component. The negative side of this equation is that often our new clients have unreal expectations of what PR can do for them.
For example, one of our Israeli clients told his new PR firm that their job—not a goal but a clear expectation—was to get him on the cover of Business Week within a year. We had to explain to him that Tom wanted to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. But to do so he’d have to write a bestseller, go into rehab for his drug habit, have an affair with a rock star, and then have the book turned into a movie. In other words, the PR firm needed something to work with. (In “PR speak,” what are your assets?) And unless our Israeli client was going to break out in ways that the business plan didn’t indicate, or if our Israeli CEO was going to couple company success with unique activities—a la Richard Branson—he should lower his sights and focus on VAR Illustrated instead of Businessweek.
The key takeaway for our clients is to set goals (for news coverage, thought leadership, etc.) and expectations (of management bandwidth, assets, etc.) with your PR agency and to be sure to manage to them with planned checkpoints.
Posted On March 21st, 2013 by Crowded Ocean
PR is an essential ingredient in the marketing program for most startups. Here are 4 tips for how to choose and leverage the best PR resource for your startup.
- Why your startup needs a PR firm explained here.
- How to shop for a PR agency: part one and part two.
- Hostage PR – how to recognize the danger for your startup.
- Chemistry – how chemistry matters when choosing your PR agency.
Posted On February 14th, 2013 by Crowded Ocean
Our startup clients often have two misguided approaches to PR: 1) they don’t need it, or 2) they can do it themselves (in-house and leveraging their relationships with analysts and influencers from past companies). They’re wrong on both counts.
While landing coverage in TechCrunch can be influential, it’s not enough. You need not only a big hit like TechCrunch, you need a steady stream of coverage from press, analysts and key influencers and bloggers to get on your customers’ radar and stay there. Startups that are in it to win need to have a planful, sustained PR strategy in order to reach out, cultivate and follow up with the top press, analysts and bloggers who will write and shape opinion among your customer prospects when your startup launches and beyond.
Some of your best press coverage will not land at launch, but will need to be cultivated over time. This is where an agency comes in. An in-house PR resource probably won’t know what other stories or topics are being developed by major pubs and analysts; a good agency and agency team will. Recruiting and vetting a PR agency is a critical priority for every one of our startup clients because very few will or should have a dedicated PR person on board during the lean days of launch. An experienced PR professional (ranging from a sole practioner to a full agency) should bring domain expertise, a track record of results and measurement, as well as an account team with capacity dedicated to your startup. We wrote about how to choose a PR firm in two earlier blog posts.