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Media Training for Startups

On August 29th, Sarah Rice (Head of Communications, MXit) gave a talk entitled "Media Training for Startups" for the Silicon Cape. This was followed by a Q&A with Sarah and Michelle Atagana of Memeburn. Both were full of useful, practical, advice. I find LukeW's notes from the talks he attends very useful, so I thought I would try writing notes for the talks that I attend. Below are my notes from Sarah's presentation. (My notes from the Q&A)

Sarah Rice has 12 years experience in the PR industry. She was MD of Sentient Communications until 2011, then took 22seven to market, then joined MXit as Head of Communications.

Why Bother?

  • Companies, especially new businesses and startups, often ask: why bother?
  • The ultimate objective is to sell more stuff. If your goal isn't selling more stuff, spend your money elsewhere.
  • Being the "best kept secret" is a recipe for fail.

What is PR?

  • Much more than logo and catchy tagline. It's awareness, education, and recognition of what you do, and of your sales staff.
  • PR people act as interpreters.
    • Business people, especially management, speak from their bubble, and in their language. Staff, customers, and suppliers don't care about spreadsheets and sales targets!
    • Think about communicating retrenchments as an example: the tone and pitch is very important.
  • PR people act as a bodyguard.
    • They sit outside the message and speak to the major drivers.
    • Good communication provides a buffer zone when things go wrong: gives you time. When a crisis / disaster strikes, it will show you how good your PR is.
  • PR is like fertiliser for your business.
    • It's not Direct Marketing, Sales, or Telesales.
    • It's about a slow, sustained, burn.
  • Question from the crowd: how do you measure the effectiveness of your PR?
    • By perception over time.
    • Audit via sales team, customers, clients.
  • PR strategy must support the business goals.
  • PR is communications.

Where does the media fit in?

  • Think about what you send to where, which channel to use, what actions the users take.
    • Increase engagement on an existing channel, break into a new space, convince a corporation to sponsor you?
  • When does traditional media make sense?
    • When it's news.
      • there's a persistent idea that the media is indebted to help SMEs. Not true! They owe you nothing. They exist for their readers, to share relevant, interesting, and meaningful content.
    • When your agenda and theirs cross
  • What do we have in South Africa?
    • Financial print, Weekly print, radio, online, TV (small market)
    • Our media is not deeply technical, so blogs and user-generated media is useful.
  • What's happening in the world of journalists?
    • They're understaffed. Newsrooms aren't like the ones on TV!
    • They're covering lots of stories over many different spheres.
    • The older generation have tended to go off into PR or consulting.
    • The young generation are there, sometimes with little experience, no resources, and high pressure. They're stressed!

What is news?

  • Things that have these qualities.
    • relevancy: which media are you pitching to?
    • timeous: must be happening now.
    • proximity: must be local, South African.
    • emotion: e.g. feelings of tech industry about recent Apple vs Samsung trial
    • prominence: link yourself to a big name?
    • conflict: not great for pro-active PR, try and avoid.
    • solid information.
  • Question from the crowd: do tech people read print media?
    • Banks, yes.
    • Finding where your competitors is a good guide of where you should be.

What to do: You

  • have a clear: action objective, message, story (are you the opinion leader, the first, better?)
  • support your message with proof points, stats.
  • have one good story rather than several
  • you must be able to explain yourself and your company quickly, confidently, and easily.
  • Question from the crowd: if your company is chaining, how should you handle it? It's a pivot, but we need to keep the old business going and solvent, and have the new one.
    • Rebrand with a new name, as a spin off of the old one. Let's you keep the same name for the old one, and gives you a new name linked to the old one's reputation.
  • You can't have an angle without proof points.
  • Dogfooding is not a story!

What to do: Them

  • Read the publication
    • who are the journalists?
    • what do they like, what do they do? Will your story interest them?
    • journalists fear no-one reads them. Tell them that you've read their stuff: it's a complement.

What not to do

  • Don't be an asshole!
    • don't edit their stuff, don't try and do their job for them.
  • Don't bring a marketing spin
  • Don't give misleading info
  • Don't be too cagey, and be honest. If you can't discuss something say why.

Now what?

  • If you're not the social type, send someone who is!
  • Stories with some difficulty, troubles, are more interesting. It's okay to be a little vulnerable.
  • Think about the narrative. There are many ways to tell a story; tell it your way.
  • The best way to connect is by telephone.
  • prepare for the call
  • have a reason to meet and connect again. Most people will agree to meet for coffee.
  • focus on the relationship, and the coverage will follow
  • Lots gets lost over email
    • We haven't invented the sarcasm font yet!
  • PR is a long relationship, a business journey

Writing an article

  • Press release
    • write as a thought / opinion leader, not as a marketer.
    • the big question is "So what?" Answer it!
    • See for good advice on Press Releases.

PR Professionals

    • If you call them in, shop around. Look for good chemistry with you, an understanding of the market, honesty.
    • Hiring a freelance writer can be a good option.
      • don't let them send out the press release, though. Do it yourself to build the relationship.
    • The hourly price can vary, but about 6 hours for a press release, about 10 hours for an OpEd is a good guideline.

Closing remarks

Have fun!
When it goes well, it's exciting.

Slides from Sarah's talk: Media Training for Startups [pptx, 1.1MB]