When to go it alone
No matter how many PR agencies or freelance consultants say otherwise, a small start-up can pull off a solid media relations strategy without shelling out for help, Hammerling says. In fact, there are only three reasons an early-stage company should consider retaining the services of a firm:
- It’s entering a crowded market. “They need to be able to show why they’re better, why they’re above the fray."
- It’s a very disruptive company. “If it’s really going to change huge things, like health care, then they need to get out there ahead fast.”
- There’s a legacy CEO involved who has history with the press. “Even if the company isn’t ready for primetime, there will be a lot of attention.”
If none of these are true, then relax. "Everybody else should focus that budget on development of the product and building a team internally."
You are your message, and your message is everything.
When Hammerling takes on a new client, the first thing she does is separate the key members of the team, including the investors. Then she fires questions at them about the product: “What are you? Why are you? Who are you? What problem are you solving and how are you solving it? Why should people care right now?” The idea is to hear what all of them say, where are the differences? Where are the overlaps? What do the people who care most about the company’s success think it is? This is how a narrative is born.
This was Hammerling’s approach with GroupMe, the mobile messaging startup bought by Skype in 2011.
“It’s a great example because they were entering a very crowded space, but it wasn’t chat and it wasn’t just texting--we didn’t even want to call it an app,” she says. “Instead, we called it a ‘messaging service’ and talked about it in the context of a story: the frustration everyone feels when they can’t communicate with a whole group of friends at a music festival or a party. We were able to really differentiate them as a new way for friends to talk to each other.”
A start-up can use this strategy without a communications team. “You can come up with your own ideas and compare notes, and develop it together. You might end up somewhere you didn’t predict.” She highlights Uber, not a Brew client, as an expert example of intentional branding. “They offer themselves as a technology company--not a car service. That’s a very specific message that tells you something about who they are and what they do.”
“PR isn’t about hits and it isn’t about placement. It’s about focusing your voice. It’s about finding your place in the market.”