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Four Myths About Public Relations for New Startups

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As the founder of a new startup you have probably wondered if and when you should begin working with a PR firm.

Some people caution against it until you start receiving inbound PR queries.

Some argue that new startups should never have PR firms or “reps” contact reporters directly because they would rather hear from a founder or CEO.

While each startup is different, and there are some founders who should pitch their companies to the media directly, I argue that they are few and far between.

Myth 1: Startups Don’t Need Outside PR Help Until They’re Famous

One of the best ways to become famous is to generate stories about your company in the media. While not every startup is at a strategic growth point where it needs help with PR, most could benefit from hiring an outside firm or consultant, even if temporarily, as they can tell you how to position your company to the media, identify key reporters and offer valuable insight and a perspective you may not have.

Myth 2: PR Reps Are Basically Used Car Salesmen

As an author, I receive a lot of pitches from PR reps and while I’d like to say that each pitch is well thought out, most of them are off-topic and far too vague. I understand why PR reps don’t always have the best reputation, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good ones out there.

If you’re thinking about working with a PR firm, make sure they know how to represent a startup with your needs. Be clear about your goals; what kind of coverage you need and why you need it. A good PR rep should feel like a member of your company, they understand your challenges and the target media you need to reach. Finding a good PR rep isn’t always easy, but neither is anything that’s really worthwhile.

Myth 3: When It Comes To Media Outreach, The Founder Should Pitch The Company

While there are times when a startup’s founder or CEO should reach out to the media, it’s the exception, not the rule. If you’re the founder of a startup and you actually “know” a reporter; if you golf together, or have a long work history together, then yes, reach out. The other exception is for that small, selective group of reporters who “only” talk with company founders but keep in mind, most journalists covering startups aren’t that exclusive. If you don’t know a reporter and you try to pitch to them, you run the risk of looking like you have nothing better to do.

Hire a good PR rep to reach out to the media on your behalf. Having a rep gives the impression of growth; that you’re thinking big and you plan on employing more people in the future. Startup allure is about image - even if it really is just three people hovering their laptops in a coffee shop, it’s still a company.

Myth 4: As a New Startup, It’s Wasteful to Seek Outside PR Help

While new startups are mostly concerned with building their product, revising it and building a business around it, it’s important to keep the “launch” in mind. Build your company as if you expect to be famous. Keep in mind that having a good PR strategy and getting good “ink” is the business equivalent of dressing up for an interview; it shows the world that you care. While you don’t need to break the bank on a massive global PR campaign, you do need to generate stories that reflect your company well and prove that someone, outside of yourself, believes in your business. If you’ve found a PR firm that you’re proud to work with, that meets your needs, and works within your budget, you’ve made an informed business decision and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

Jennifer L. Jacobson, Founder of Jacobson Communication, Director of PR & Social Media for Retrevo.com and author of 42 Rules of Social Media for Small Business

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com

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