PR For the Little Guy

I had lunch with Jon Bloom recently.  Jon runs McGrath Powers, a Silicon Valley based PR strategy and marketing firm.   Jon has worked with myriad of hardware, software, Internet focused, mobile and networking companies over the years (e.g. Tivo, Vodaphone, Nikon, RSA, Fusion Garage, mBlox) and has navigated the huge shift in PR that we have experienced in the last 10 years.  We got talking about PR and communication for early stage companies, about where to focus and how to work.

When you are running a small company, marketing resources are scarce and you need to deploy them as effectively as possible.   As obvious as it sounds, Jon says understanding your business objectives is a key to planning your PR and communication effort, and that early stage companies sometimes fail to make this basic connection.  Once he has done this, Jon  applies three measures to help a company figure out where to focus: 1. context; 2. channels; and 3. content.

Context 

You need to both understand and work with the context within which you are communicating with your audience.  If you’re offering is radically new and unlike anything seen before, you will have to invest a fair bit of time educating your audience about what you offer them.  I did some work with a company that had developed web based energy management tools for consumers that enabled users to monitor and manage home energy consumption in real time.  Given that 99% of homeowners now receive an unintelligible paper bill once a month,  the shift to web based, real time, actionable information would be huge and so education about this new offering was key.

On the other hand, if you have competitors – as most companies do – you are going to have to spend a fair bit of time differentiating and positioning your offering.

Channels

Back in the day, there were one or two channels through which you could communicate with your audience – the general press, trade publications, direct mail.  Now there are a plethora of channels (print journalism, webinars, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, content based email).  The key is to use the channel(s) that your audience are comfortable with.  I have done a fair bit of work with technology companies that sell into the commercial real estate space, which is a “late-adopting” community that considers email pretty advanced.  On the other hand, I was chatting with a social CRM company that sells to smaller ecommerce and media companies whose entire communication focus is on social media.

Content

Thoughtful, authentic content is key to your communication effort.  You should position yourself as the subject matter expert with the audience you are addressing and avoid webinars, blogs, white papers or videos that are sales pitches masquerading as information.  Selling is very important, you just want to be super clear about when and where you are doing it.  Great content does take time and effort to generate, but it doesn’t have to break your budget.

A couple of years ago, I helped a client put together a series of webinars in which subject matter experts from its target industry addressed issues that its target audience faced operating their businesses.   These monthly sessions were publicized by email (an appropriate channel for the audience), do no selling and were recorded and posted on the company web site.

I happened to be chatting with the CIO of the vertical’s largest player several months into the webinar series about a separate matter and he, out of the blue, told me how impressed he was with the webinars and how much his team had learned from them.  Golden!

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