Startup PR 101 (Month 2)

After working on an obscure financial product, my partners and I were excited to create something sexy. We brainstormed and built. Then gave birth. "Finally," we bragged on the home page,  "a personal assistant who never sleeps." This felt different already.  

We shared our baby on a Reddit subthread, hoping to attract 5 or 15 early adopters. Our MVP climbed to the top of the thread. Then jumped to Hacker News and scaled the front page. At 11pm our product was still crawling the net, so we capped our beta users at over 100. The wait list grew to thousands. 

Attention is not product/market fit. Attention is not money. Attention is... Just attention. But, it should still be leveraged. 

PR 101: 

Two weeks later our biggest article came out. It was written by an NYtimes best selling author, a man who wrote for NY Mag, GQ, Esquire and ESPN.

What we did right (I think): 

Got him to write about us: Let's not play that down. We were in a big magazine! Hey Mom, I'm famous! 

Played hard to get: We got the sense he wanted to write about our product but we didn't ask. Eventually he asked to jump the cue and write about us. "Wish I could bump you," I wrote "but I think next week is best." 

Made a friend: He followed up asking if he could try our product before other writers. I wrote back - "The group we're letting in Monday has one other online journalist in it. But I'll push her back a week - because I liked your billionaire piece." He thanked me. 

Kept in Touch: We're getting coffee this week. Keep your friends close, and your journalists... close too.

What we should have done: 

Asked Questions: We didn't ask what the author wanted to write about. It ended up being a product comparison piece (not great). If he felt strongly about writing the piece, perhaps he could have been talked into some other format. 

Asked if I was being quoted: When the questions got hard, I paused, thought and then answered as best I could. My thoughtfulness was misread and my enthusiasm was missed. I could have said "are you looking for a quote?" If the answer was yes, I could have said "I don't give quotes on the fly,  I'll get some together for you and send them over." For product comparison pieces, nobody quotes on the fly. 

Maintained Editorial Control: It's industry standard to ask for editorial control. We should have asked for control of language, image and "final talking point." 

The product (a few weeks old) was compared to a dozen competitors, including Siri - this was less than ideal. We could have steered the direction away from terms like "young," and towards words like "blossoming." We could have removed terms like "disturbing," all together and asked for more focus on what we did well. 

Had the author needed our blessing to publish, I believe he would have depicted us more positively in the first place. 

Taken Control: He took control. We were so glad he was paying attention to us, we let him walk all over us. As a result, we were denied the ability to properly represent our product. 

The hard part: 

The hardest and most critical part of managing PR is managing relationships. We flattered, empowered and befriended writers. But we also played hard to get, and did our best to control the representation of our product. This was a tricky balance. And we'll certainly do it better next time. 


After a month - The above product is out of my life. Lots was going well. But there was more potential elsewhere.

On to the next one... Maybe you'll read about it soon. And hopefully next time it'll shine.  

Thanks to KA and my PR friends for the advice.