Tag Archive for: startup PR advice

As uncertainty rises, funding falls. At least that’s what the news would have you believe. But according to Inc. magazine, seed and angel deals are still trending upward, and early stage companies with proven product are still getting most of the deals. In fact, 64% of venture funding is early stage, and seed deals through Q2 of 2022 were on par with the entirety of 2019 (Q2 NVCA/PitchBook). That means for hyper-growth or ambitious companies and challenger brands, there is still an opportunity for you. So what should you do when VC funding is down and inflation is still driving uncertainty? I’ve been through every recession since 9/11 and I’ve been working with ambitious brands and companies since then as well. So I’ve seen what successful businesses do during recessions to position themselves for competitive advantage, survival and growth, despite the economic hurdles. Over the years I’ve noticed, startups who focus on looking ahead while being laser-focused, and tend to survive tumultuous times.

Focus Your Energies and Budget

“Everything you do, do exceptionally well, and if you aren’t exceptional at it, then get rid of it or outsource it.”

Look at everything you’re doing and cut out the things you aren’t doing well. For example, let’s say your internal biz development team is excellent, but your event marketing isn’t producing the results you’d hoped for, take that event marketing budget and focus it on one thing your biz dev team says they need to get to the next level.

Everything you do, do exceptionally well, and if you aren’t exceptional at it, then get rid of it or outsource it. Outsourcing is just more nimble. What you outsource, be exceptionally clear about your goals, so you can maximize your reduced budget. Focusing your time and budget has the additional advantage of clearing out the cobwebs and giving you new insight into operational efficiencies too. Who knows? You might decide that outsourcing certain strategies, like PR, simply works better than doing it in-house, anyway.

Startups should also focus on the long term. Think about ways you can increase efficiencies with agency partners, and where you can maximize the partners you have on board.

 

Bullish on the Future

“Deals are still happening, but they’re more happening on industries and trends which are moving ahead full steam, no matter what happens to the economy,”

What should a startup focus on when thinking about funding? No matter what happens to the economy, innovation rolls forward, and VCs know this. The money isn’t on solving today’s problems, it’s on solving tomorrow’s problems. According to Pitchbook, in Q1 of 2022, VC’s raised more money than in the entirety of 2019. So are coming down? Oh, absolutely, but VC’s know – the future is now.

Even when funding is down, deals are still happening, but they’re more happening on industries and trends which are moving ahead full steam. So do your homework on where your product fits into the biggest challenges or opportunities in the next 5, 10, 15 years. Look at all the challenges the pandemic brought to light – those challenges are still top of mind, and the companies solving those problems will have a head start. Your corporate storytelling should also lean into the future and purpose driven initiatives. These two aspects will allow you to lead against your peers.

FinTech is another area where the gloom and doom may be over-reported – through Q2, FinTech funding was still more than in 2019, but it’s definitely not as frothy as 2021. FinTech founder may wish to focus on thought leadership and tie it into purpose-driven points of view in order to tap into future trends.

Plan For Success

“Companies that survive this time focus… on problem-solving,”

Now is the time to think out loud and do your due diligence for tomorrow. Companies that survive this time focus their operations team on problem-solving. For example, if  VC funding doesn’t seem likely for you right now, turn your attention to policy initiatives at the federal and local levels. For example, the last infrastructure project had a lot of opportunities for climate-related startups. And the 2021 infrastructure package held lots of tidbits for infrastructure tech programs, that emerging industries like drones and UOV could take advantage of.

Consumer tech VC funding really has taken a sharp nose-dive. Storytelling PR campaigns may not be as attractive as they once were for consumer tech. Now is the time to look at product-based programs which increase awareness but not the budget.

You should take this opportunity to do some scenario planning as well. Now is a great time to plan for a crisis, and create plans for things like cyber breaches ,which will help you secure your future.

 

Tomorrow’s greatest companies and emerging industries aren’t going to allow this uncertainty to derail them. This is where the rubber meets the road, and strategy makes a difference.

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OK.  I’ll admit it. I watch Silicon Valley on HBO.

I hate admitting it because of course, it’s both a characterization and just a little too close for comfort to the startup experience.

Last night’s episode had me laughing AND crying.

Let me set the scene: The founder and the coders are desperately trying to hire new developers in a competitive market, time is short and so is money.  Meanwhile, in the board room, the newly minted but completely wacko investor insists the startup spend $30K on “shwag.” It’s a classically stressful startup moment.

I cringe.

No one asks any questions – the founders are too caught off guard by the mere suggestion. And yet, it’s patently obvious no one except the wildly erratic investor, who also spend a load of cash on billboards, has started to even think about marketing and branding.

Everyone’s thinking “splash” and no one is thinking “strategy.”

Here’s a pro-tip: “Splashes” without “Strategy” are usually huge wastes of money.

I don’t care how awesome your product is – you HAVE to think about branding and marketing for your startup. But the worst way to do it is in a scattershot “yah, let’s spend money on that,” way. Every startup has a “Shwag” moment.

I remember one startup I worked on wanted to spend $100K on hiring a talent for a “viral video.” Another spent over five-hundred thousand dollars on print ads.

Both happened for one reason only: everyone was in splash mode and no one was in strategy mode.

Here are 5 Ways To Know Whether It’s YOUR Time for “Schwag”

1. Have you done a pre-launch marketing plan? 

Before you go to launch, you’re going to need a marketing plan. Sounds obvious, except, it’s one of the hardest things for startups to focus on.

Through the haze of late nights and Redbull, frantic pivots and resource challenges, marketing strategy for launch is often overlooked.

Consequently, decisions like “we need to spend $30K on “shwag” happen in the moment and they happen quickly and then happen when everyone is actually focused elsewhere.

If there’s one place you need a plan for launch it’s in marketing. If you’re doing your pre-launch homework, you might just be well positioned for your splash.

2.  Who’s Suggesting? 

I know you wouldn’t take code advice from me. You shouldn’t. If I ever give it you, send me packing.

Get your experts and resources in order and more importantly, listen to them.

There’s going to come a point when someone or many people will start telling you what you should do, most of whom have no idea what you’re TRYING to do.  The better your relationship with your marketing expert, the more you’ll know whether you’re getting good advice from everyone else.

3. Who’s Implementing? 

What’s the point of your “shwag?” Whose getting it, when and where. Oh, yah, whose distributing it?

How many times have I seen impetuous spending happen without thought as to implementation?

Chances are – no matter what kind of “shwag” you’re investing in, you, the founder do NOT have time to implement said “shwag.” Better figure that out before you spend that $30K.

Even if you’re a master of marketing strategy, get your implementors together and THEN you’ll be ready for your splash.

4.  What Questions Aren’t You Asking?

Hey, I like a new idea probably even more than the next person, but somethings work consistently and somethings consistently don’t work. Some risks in marketing are worth taking, some are worth testing and some are just bad.

There should be at least one person on your team, whether in house or outsourced whose saying “that’s a bad idea,” once in awhile.

I’m not suggesting you have layers and layers of processes for a simple decision, but I don’t care how many millions you have, marketing is expensive, someone better be prioritizing and someone better be comfortable with “no.”

Find your “no” person. Not because they’ll throttle  you, but because they’ll let you splash at the right time.

5. How Expensive is “Cheap?” 

I get it, you don’t want to spend any of your money on “shwag” but you need to. So you call your nephew or niece because they’ll do it cheap.

Unraveling “cheap” is one of the most time and energy consuming processes you can not pay for. I bet you’ve been there in other forms of development. Marketing is no different. Not only that, but you’ll find unraveling cheap costs a whole lot more than “done right the first time.”

So, next time someone wants to drop big bucks on shwag, you’ll be ready for them. AND you’ll be on your way to being ready for your splash.