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News & Features
How to get (and use) PR for start-ups
The Singapore chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) organised an event recently titled "How to get press coverage for start-ups". The event, moderated by Singapore-based entrepreneur Roshni Mahtani, featured brief talks by Grace Chng, Senior Tech Correspondent of The Straits Times; Elaine Huang of e27; Khushil Vaswani of PR agency, Weber Shandwick and blogger Nitu Mirchandani. This was followed by a short panel discussion/Q&A session. Being a topic quite close to my personal and business interests, I attended this event and summarise what I heard from the panel below.
Grace Chng asked entrepreneurs to focus on "CRAM" as part of their PR strategy ie. Coverage, Reaching out, Appealing Story and Mainstream Media. She pointed out that often start-ups ignore the multiple angles of coverage that a particular story could get within the same publication. Taking advantage of the multiple-coverage opportunities will give start-ups considerably more visibility than they would by getting covered in only one section. It is also important for entrepreneurs to reach out to journalists with appealing story lines; she said that contrary to perceived impressions, journalists on the start-up beat are willing to give entrepreneurs a patient hearing (more so than to PR agencies!). Many entrepreneurs also tend to ignore mainstream media and instead focus only on niche media; however, that may be a missed opportunity. The reach provided by mainstream media should be taken advantage of, she emphasised.
Hugh Mason, founder of Singapore-headquartered incubator JFDI, spoke about the need to be authentic and the need to tell a good, honest story, a view that was seconded by Grace Chng.
Use the 5Ws
Elaine Huang, a correspondent with e27, urged start-ups to remember the 5Ws when pitching stories to journalists: Why, Who, What, When and Where. She also had some Do's and Don'ts: Don't promise exclusive story to every journalist; don't call up journalists before contacting them by e-mail; follow them on Twitter and communicate via Twitter, it may be a good way to establish a relationship with a journalist. Not all journalists like embargoed releases, and they would prefer to do a more detailed story by speaking to relevant people within the company.
Service fee models for PR agencies
Khushil Vaswani of PR agency, Weber Shandwick, emphasised the importance and value of PR over advertising using the oft-repeated quote from Bill Gates about using PR if he were on to his last dollar. After the event, I asked him about the different models that PR agencies may work on considering that budgets are often a constraint with SMEs and start-ups. He said that some agencies might work on a performance-based model with start-ups too; that really depends on their belief in the company/ product that they are looking to do PR for.
On a question related to measurement of ROI of a PR exercise, Khushil responded that the ROI is often measured in terms of advertising value ie. the cost of getting an equivalent amount of advertising space in the media.
Khushil was asked about the ideal size of a press release and his view was that it should ideally be within a page and roughly about 250 words long. I think a release should be about 400 words long (excluding the boiler plate) including a couple of quotes.
Use corporate blogging as part of PR
Blogger Nitu Mirchandani (known as "Supermommy") emphasised the importance of blogging for creating visibility for the company. She also talked about reaching out to bloggers and "being nice to them". She was really big on Google+ and asserted that a strong presence and "follower" base on Google+ is immensely helpful for SEO results.
An aspect that the panel did not discuss, which I feel is very important, is the use of online press release distribution services. While mainstream journalists may or may not cover this, we have found that the use of these services have actually given many of our SME clients considerable visibility. Not only have bloggers or the trade press picked up the releases but also the fact that a lot of the mainstream media pick up these releases directly and have them as feeds on their own website helps provide considerable online visibility. Our experience tells us that start-ups or small businesses should really take advantage of this channel to extend their reach. While there may not be perfect substitute for getting coverage via a journalist in a mainstream media channel, getting online visibility through the online distribution services/ newswires is the next best thing.
-By Manoj Aravindakshan
Manoj Aravindakshan is the Managing Director of On Target Media, a Singapore-based online marketing company. Among other things, On Target helps SMEs and start-ups with press release writing and distribution services