By Lisa Calhoun
Startups like Ipsy and Purple Carrot drive big headlines, and it’s not by accident. Companies that are great at public relations do a few simple things differently. I’m going to skip the stuff you already know—having a short name, an attractive web site, and active social media profiles. Let’s move right into the public relations mojo that isn’t so obvious.
You take public relations as seriously as product development.
Michelle Phan, co-founder of Ipsy, is a perfect example. In 2007, she began posting YouTube videos of make-up tips. Her following grew to over 8 million. That was a perfect fanbase of potential customers for $10-a-month make-up sample startup, Ipsy. Since then, Phan has raised over $100 million and attracted 1.5 million customers. (Read more of her story in Zoe’s Inc. article.) For entrepreneurs like her, product development and public relations go hand in hand. She uses PR for customer discovery, concept testing, and general direction. Phan still uploads video almost weekly and has an active blog; she sees herself as a community builder.
You have a strong point of view.
You don’t have to upload a video a week like Phan to be famous for your point of view. Many of the most media-mantled young companies are known at least as much for their positions on issues as for their products. Take for example vegan food delivery service, Purple Carrot. They recruited food authority Mark Bittman as co-founder. He’s writing weekly about their startup journey in Fast Company.
When you take a stance, of course, you get not only headlines but also opposition. Companies that understand public relations see this as an opportunity to get clearly in front of potential customers—and that’s genius. Think about the headlines you’ve spotted around Uber, Tesla, or AirBnB. They aren’t always positive—but you are clear on how those startups believe the world should work. That’s priceless when it comes to differentiating yourself for customers trying to buy.
Having a strong stance without showing up to explain it is, of course, a recipe for disaster. (The series of recent Theranos headlines comes to mind.) Staying present isn’t about always having a stage provided to do it on—it goes back to having a stance you’re showing up for as a way of life.
Andy Levitt, CEO at Purple Carrot, did a public meet-up recently in New York. Michelle Phan is speaking at the next Growco. Elon Musk’s Twitter feed is not just active: he often break news around Tesla or SpaceX himself and just as often responds personally to questions. These founders are making their own stages.
Creating a culture of embracing public opinion is a trait that startups that want headlines curate in a conscious way. On a tactical level, this looks like having active social profiles, including active CEO social profiles, thoughtful blogs, and regular appearances. It looks like getting back to journalists in just a few hours: you know how it looks when you hear the journalist say, “we tried to contact them, but they didn’t respond by deadline.”
You’re inspired by a promise.
Startups that earn media staying power also carry a brand promise that goes far beyond the transaction. For example, Andela, recently covered by Forbes as one of New York’s hottest startups, offers companies technical talent. Providing developers is a crowded market filled with staffing firms, recruiters, incubators, and even universities.
Andela’s stance is that technical talent is equally distributed everywhere, no matter your race, gender, or creed. They demonstrate it by sourcing developer talent exclusively from Africa. In fact, they just launched an all-female cohort from Kenya. CNN, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Inc., and the New Yorker are among the top media outlets that find their promise of building a more egalitarian world worth covering. (Full disclosure: Andela is a client at Write2Market.)
So think about it—using PR as a product dev lab, taking a stance, staying present, and living an aspiration. It’s media genius, but it’s not rocket science. What do people need to understand about what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it, to get you the headlines you deserve?
This article first appeared in Inc.com