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Is Your SaaS Startup Making These 6 Big PR Mistakes?

By Emily Smith on Mon, Oct 14, 2019

Early-stage SaaS startups have it tough. When you’re just starting out, it’s hard to reach the right people, and get them as excited about your product as you are. You’re facing three huge challenges:

  • Nobody knows your company
  • Nobody knows you or your co-founders
  • Your startup is up against dozens more startups in the crowded SaaS space

Many startups enlist the help of PR firms, to get them the coverage they need to raise the profile of their SaaS product. Done well, the increased media coverage can be a springboard to success, but done poorly many founders end up paying dearly for their inexperience.

So today I’m sharing 6 of the biggest PR mistakes that you need to avoid, if you don’t want to sabotage the growth of your SaaS company.

1) Assuming PR Coverage is The Answer

To be blunt: even if you’re featured in all the right places, it’s unlikely to deliver the instant win you’ve imagined.

Contrary to popular belief, getting covered that one time by TechCrunch won’t solidify your success. - Kissmetrics

For example, the launch of (now defunct) startup, Trakio, was covered in Product Hunt, Venture Beat and The Next Web. The result: 3,700 unique website visits, converting to 218 free trials (a 5.9% conversion rate). Not bad, but clearly not enough to set you up for life.

Liam Gooding, TrakioPR is a very temporary win. Taking aside all the vanity, the cold hard benefits were not much better than a really amazing blog post could provide.

Liam Gooding, Trakio

2) Working with an Agency with No SaaS Experience

When looking for a PR agency to work with, be sure to check out their track record: which SaaS companies have they worked with in the past? Where have those companies been featured?

Be sure to push them hard for evidence of not just talk but numbers, measurement and success stories… Key question: do they deliver?

Notion Capital

Many of the big-name PR agencies won’t have a proven track record working with SaaS companies, which means they won’t have contacts in the places you want to be featured. In fact, in many startups may be better suited to doing their own PR, rather than paying for the services of a PR agency, month after month:

Brooke Hammerling, Brew Media RelationsThere are only three reasons an early-stage company should consider retaining the services of a [PR] firm: it’s entering a crowded market… It’s a very disruptive company… [or] There’s a legacy CEO involved who has history with the press.

Brooke Hammerling, Brew Media Relations

3) Not Measuring Results

If you decide that working with a PR agency is the best option for your startup, but you’re not measuring their results, you might as well write them a blank cheque.

It’s important to start developing PR metrics to ensure that you’re accountable to your benchmarks, and that you’re improving your bottom line… If you do PR analytics right, you will know which outlets generate the most traffic. More importantly, you will know which outlets actually convert.

The Advanced Guide to Startup PR, Kissmetrics

Every $1000 a month that you’re spending on PR is $1000 that you’re not investing in developing the product, or marketing it, or in your sales activity. So it’s crucial that you keep track of your PR spend, and the results you’re getting from it, so you can be sure that it’s the best use of those dollars.

4) Having Unrealistic Expectations

You can’t expect to hire a PR agency, and immediately be featured in the New York Times, TechCrunch and SaaStr. It (probably) won’t happen overnight. Even if you are, don’t expect some great PR coverage to automatically lead to an influx of new customers.

Jason Lemkin, SaaStrPR usually won’t get you enough leads to justify the cost, at least in the early days... If you are expecting to spend $15k a month on a PR firm, and get $30k-$45k-$60k a month in deals out of it — you will be super frustrated.  98.5 times out of 100, it won’t happen.

Jason Lemkin, SaaStr

Equally, don’t be too lenient. Jason Lemkin refers to a cut-off point of 60-90 days: if you’re not seeing results from your PR agency by then, it’s time to try something different.

5) Not Having a PR Strategy

Strategic startup PR relates directly to a goal and is almost always best measured in metrics like traffic, app downloads or lead generation. If your efforts barely make a difference to key business metrics, it doesn’t really matter if they look good on lame, unrelated PR metrics.

Notion Capital

This ties in to having realistic expectations, and measuring your results. By far one of the biggest mistakes that startups make is not taking a strategic approach to their PR activities. It’s important that you consider what you want to achieve with your media coverage: are you telling the right story, in the right places, to get the attention of the right people (your prospective customers)?

6) Telling the Wrong Story

Kenneth Berger, the first Project Manager at Slack, attributes part of Slack’s PR success to their storytelling capabilities: “Rapid growth and a celebrated CEO helped, but there’s another key factor behind Slack’s PR success — they tell the stories of the big ideas behind the company.”

In the crowded SaaS space there are dozens of startups repeating the same line: “disrupting” this and “democratising” that. One of the best things you can do to make your startup stand-out is to work out what makes your company different and important right now, and keep that at the heart of your PR messaging.

To make a success of your PR strategy, you need to know what your message is, how to tell your story, and what you want to achieve.

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