Startup community news from Houston, Texas, USA

Using PR to your advantage in a down economy

Suzanne Tormollen of Atingo is a 13 year public relations veteran of the tech scene who recently relocated to Houston. She has worked with many venture-backed companies in the Austin area as well as companies such as Dell. Suzanne is a new contributor to Startup Houston.

I have been in the high-tech PR industry for almost 13 years focused on promoting venture-backed start-ups.  I experienced “the bubble” and saw companies slash marketing and PR budgets to cope with tightening budgets and slower sales.  While these measures cut costs in the near-term, these companies missed out on a tremendous marketing and communications opportunity.

While it’s important to be prudent about where you are spending your money, it is also important to seize this quiet market as a time to define, educate and lead.  Now, more than ever, you should be keeping your company front-and-center, communicating your competitive differentiation and setting the stage for your industry.

This notion of putting in place an aggressive PR and communications plan during a downturn is not new.  According to a March 2008 article from the Harvard Business Review:

“It is well documented that brands that increase (marketing) during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times.”

PR is often viewed as un-measurable and therefore an unneeded marketing activity. For those struggling with how to support a PR campaign in today’s down economy remember, PR can be very broad or very focused.  Keep it focused.  Market validation and industry awareness are essential and can be achieved with a small budget.

  1. Market validation:  Finding the industry analysts who are researching and following the happenings in your market just takes a little searching.  Remember to stay lean.  Focus on just two or three.  You can make introductions, pitch your story and begin a working relationship.  Some analysts may charge you.  Choose the firm with the best industry relationships and be prepared to pay them.  You often may be able to secure some initial coverage during the “courting period” even before officially signing.  For the others, see if they’d be willing to provide a quote or a reference, you’d be surprised what they will do. It is a down economy!
  2. Industry awareness:  Once you have the support of a few key analysts you can take your story to the media.  It isn’t necessary to target every reporter in all the markets you touch.  Just pick your top five.  Learn the publications they write for and what they are tasked with writing about such as new products, executive hires or trends.  Once you’ve been able to establish your company with the vertical market you can bring your story upstream to the business press.  Make sure you pitch useful and timely news or trends.  That’s their job.  To cover the news and industry happenings.

If you’re lucky to have budget for trade shows or conferences then you can leverage these events to meet with analysts and reporters at the show and those based in the cities where the shows are located – take advantage of travel schedules for your executives and don’t miss these opportunities.  While I usually hesitate to issue announcements at a major event, a down economy may be just the time while other companies are becoming quiet.

This may seem like a lot but it truly isn’t and it CAN be done on a small budget. Trust me.  I’m doing this and more for clients.

Remember:  Know your target audience, create a focused analyst and media relations plan and then execute, execute, execute.  Keep in mind, if you go quiet, the industry will think you are suffering as everyone else.  Don’t let that happen.  Stay front-and-center!

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