December 7, 2015
Ep. #5, Marketing Tips for Early Stage Startups
In this episode Malia hosts Gradle CMO Miko Matsumura to talk about mistakes to avoid in marketing as an early stage startup, how to build a...
In this episode of Practical Product Craig and Rimas are joined by Heavybit’s PR Manager Malia Powers to discuss how startups can get more publicity.
Malia suggests that before you embark on any PR initiative, you should first ask yourself “why do I want press?” She shares insights to help get the most out of Hacker News, Product Hunt and developer blogs, including types of content that works, how to pitch to reporters, and timing your announcements. Listen in for Malia’s tips on getting more traction with your PR efforts.
About the Guests
Malia Powers is PR Manager at Heavybit. She oversees communications efforts at Heavybit and works closely with Heavybit’s members providing both strategic counsel and tactical support on PR and marketing initiatives. Prior to Heavybit Malia worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a global PR agency, where she managed the accounts for VMware, Salesforce and Brocade among others.
Craig Kerstiens: Great, we're back this week with another episode of Practical Product. This week we've got myself and...
Malia Powers: Hi, My name's Malia, and I manage PR here at Heavybit.
Rimas Silkaitis: Welcome, and I'm Rimas, for everyone that forgot.
Craig: Cool, so you manage PR at Heavybit. What's your background before that?
Malia: So previously I was at a very large, global PR agency, Hill & Knowlton Strategies. And I primarily worked on enterprise tech clients, some of the giants of the industry: VMware, Salesforce, Brocade.
Craig: So as a startup, they would hire you, and you would magically give them press.
Malia: Correct. At that point they weren't necessarily startups, though. They were some very large startups I guess you could call them. Already IPO'd.
Craig: So having done a lot of PR, I'm sure you get a lot of interesting questions. From startups, how do I get press? I build a product, what's the first thing that I do? What are some of those common questions when talking to a startup?
Rimas: Can I just throw money at it? Is that how this works?
Craig: I think that's the perception to a lot, right?
Malia: Yeah, so oftentimes, founders will come and say, "I want press." And the first thing I usually say back is, "Why do you want press? What is the number one reason? Is it customer acquisition? Is it talent?" So usually it's kind of drilling into those reasons of why they're looking for press. But, ultimately press can be used for a variety of different functions throughout your organization.
Rimas: Do most founders or startup individuals, or even product people, know the answer to that question when they talk to you?
Malia: They talk through it. I think it's a little bit surprising at first, just to clarify that misconception. They say
Of course we want press, it's going to be the silver bullet to all of my problems. But a hit in a traditional media outlet's not going to really result in traffic to your website.
Meanwhile, you can go to maybe a Product Hunt or Hacker News, and do a full content strategy, and that might result in more customer signups. Talking them through the different channels to show that there's not just one channel for PR, oftentimes is kind of a light bulb moment.
Craig: Yeah, I think it's interesting because I think it used to be "what online publications can cover me"? Now, it's probably shifted a little bit. I think Hacker News is an interesting one. That comes up quite a bit in a lot of conversations I have with people. "How do I get on the front page of Hacker News?" Which will absolutely drive some traffic to you.
Rimas: But let's be clear about that, though. If you're going to do something on Hacker News, you're typically going to be a company whose services, especially if we're talking about the services that you're providing as a company, are targeted at that audience, right? Not necessarily that, by putting something on Hacker News, just whatever your business may be, if it's for, "underwear on demand", Hacker News might not be the place for that.
Craig: Yeah, I think that comes back to the earlier point of why you're trying to get press, right? If you're trying to get your engineering blog on Hacker News for hiring, that absolutely makes sense. If you're consumer products, it may not necessarily make sense to acquire customers on Hacker News.
Rimas: Okay, so I just want to be clear. We're defining the audience that we're going after here, right? I mean, granted, this is a Heavybit podcast, but we're generally talking about software and services for developer and developer like tools
Craig: As overrated as developer tools are, yes. That's the one we're talking about here.
Malia: Yeah, I think Hacker News has content as well. It's just like, entrepreneurship in general.
I think YC's influence over Hacker News means that hot startups often do well, or even bigger startups like SpaceX. Anything tagged YC or just a new startup. In addition to hacker, developer news also does well.
Craig: Okay, but I think you're implying just a little bit that if you're like super early-stage company, and it's about entrepreneurship, that you possibly might get some traction if you go after the Hacker News crowd, is that correct?
Malia: With the right content.
Craig: Okay, fair. Okay, as usual, it depends. Man, if we could only rename the show "It Depends".
Malia: All right. So say if we have this great piece of content that we think is like, Hacker News gold. What kind of strategies do you have for time of post? You know, there's a pretty strict algorithm. People get flagged often, especially in the Heavybit building, so very interested to hear your thoughts.
Craig: Yeah, well before we dive into that. I think you hit on something there that's an assumption that people need to make sure, like, you have a good piece of content. Who determined that was a good piece of content? I think actually that's maybe one of the most important things to think about before you try to say, "How do I get traffic from Hacker News?" or any other kind of social channel. Is it a good piece of content? And you should make sure you have that validation, right?
Rimas: I mean, just because I say it's a good piece of content, doesn't that mean it's good already?
Craig: Right, so I think my usual process there is to not trust Rimas, and to talk to 10 other developers, right? Like, are developers interested in sharing it? Is the internal pulse around it exciting?
If your developers are looking at it like it's a marketing piece, and your head of marketing wrote it, it may not be the right content to push to Hacker News.
So there's definitely that question. Is it a good piece of content or not and have you actually tested that?
Rimas: Yeah, I largely agree with that as well. I think the content can take many forms, I also want to point that out, it's not necessarily just blog posts, writing, things like that, you can do videos, other stuff like that. But in general, I think if you go to your cohort, right? Whoever that network may be, and they say it's cool, then I think you've got something.
Craig: Yep, I think that makes a lot of sense. But then coming back to "I think the piece is okay". Now you have a do have a piece of good content. How do you get it up there?
Rimas: Well, if I have a good piece of content, don't I just submit and that's it? Like, just hope for the best at that point? I mean, it's community driven, right?
Craig: Think there is a bit of hope with Hacker News, yes. There is no guarantee. At the end of the day they are, it's a good source of traffic from developers, right? But I think you need to also step back and take a pulse of like, Tuesday morning is probably the highest traffic time on Hacker News, is my guess. Probably between Tuesday and Thursday. It's when most people try to launch things.
If you get on there at 8 a.m pacific time you're going to be on there all day pacific, you're going to get some of the east coast crowd. You can stay a really long time on there, which is more overall traffic. There's also the flip side of that.
That's probably the most competitive time to try to get on. Guess what. You're not the only one that probably thinks Tuesday to Thursday at 8 a.m. pacific is the best time to get on Hacker News.
Rimas: Well, seeing as though in past episodes we've talked about working with engineering and when to launch features and things like that, it sounds like all the competition's going to be within those three days. So, what do I do?
Craig: So if it's a really big launch, really good thing, I think if you've done the other things, right? It's not just about Hacker News. Like, Hacker News, you're going to get some traction, but you've gotta do everything else. You've gotta do an email drop to your customers, you know? Are they submitting it as well? You're not asking them for it because they're probably not active on Hacker News if you're going and asking them, right?
That actually kind of presupposes a thing, you should be active in the community anyways. If you think it's a good community, you should submit things that aren't just your own blog posts. I think it's the number one thing I see. I mean, it's fine to submit mine, they're great.
Rimas: I try to submit your stuff but you beat me to it all the time.
Craig: I'll let you have the next one. But actively engage with the community, right? Like, is there good stuff that you should actively share? If you're not actively part of the community, why do you get special treatment when you launch a big product, right?
Rimas: Okay, so it sounds like what you're implying here, is that
If you want to get traction in any one of these places whether it be Product Hunt or even Hacker News, you really need to make an investment in being a part of everything that's going on there.
Not just submitting links and hoping for the best, but actually engaging in conversation. And going beyond that, providing conversation that is substantive, not just frivolous drivel or anything else like that.
Craig: Yeah, I think the conversation part is huge. Actually being there, answering questions, being positive, is a big part of it. Curious, what have you seen from startups that have tried, that have been successful, and then the ones that have tried and not been so successful?
Malia: Yeah, completely agree. If you're a community engager, it usually means you understand what kind of content does well, the voice of the developers on this platform. I've seen a lot of articles get killed by the Hacker News algorithm. Founders come in and they're really excited about this article, and naturally, will send it on their slack channel. So Hacker News will only count one vote per IP address, so that's a quick way to get flagged by Hacker News and the algorithm.
One strategy that I have seen that has worked well is putting together a list of influencers in your network across different IP addresses, and then when the news goes live, emailing them. Not sharing a link, because that link doesn't work, but saying, "We're on the front page of Hacker News, upvotes appreciated," has helped at least go from like, latest to front page. But to Ramis' point, it's content, ultimately. Good content.
Craig: Is it critical that I end up on the front page if I want to see some traffic?
Malia: I don't know, I've never dug in to numbers.
Rimas: Or you're saying that everything you do ends up on the front page, is that right?
Malia: I wish. That would be the dream. I think front page equates with more traffic, but if you're getting a couple clicks from prospective customers, from not the front page, I mean, that could be just as valuable.
Rimas: Okay, so where I end up relative to that front page is that it may or may not be a good thing. It really just depends on, I think going back to goals, what you want to accomplish. I think, maybe if it's exposure, front page might make a lot of sense. But if you're really trying to convert some traffic or something into actual customers, it may not be a big deal so long as you're converting those individuals into, a signup or something else.
Craig: Yeah, and I think on that big launch, the founder's super excited, he really want to make it work, maybe forces it almost a little too much at times. I think it's interesting to take a step back and say, "Is this really going to compete with the SpaceX launch that's happening right now?"
Hey guess what, maybe Friday afternoon isn't an awful time, when SpaceX isn't watching something and there's a live stream of it. Maybe for my engineering blog posts, that's a really good opportunity if my goal is hiring, right? What's happening interesting from the engineering, reading perspective, maybe even on the weekend? I'm not a big fan of product launches on the weekend, give the team their time off. But for publishing interesting content, there is less traffic but there's less competition, too.
Rimas: I do want to point out that you, I think are alluding to something here which is you may be able to decouple when you talk about something in the press or in these communities versus when you launch it. You may launch something on a Tuesday, a silent GA. And then you decide, maybe we'll post on Hacker News on a Friday night.
Craig: Yeah completely.
You shouldn't launch something just once. You should be launching it over and over. It's a continual process
and Hacker News is just one outlet there that you should actively be engaging in.
I think the other thing is, are you paying attention to other conversations that are happening around similar things? When there's a question, when there's a Show Hacker News, that are related, tangential, are you kind of being that voice there?
Malia: Yeah, another question I get often is
When you do a launch and have multiple sources of content, like a media article and blog post, which do you post to Hacker News? My recommendation is usually your own blog post, written in your own voice to drive traffic back to your website.
Craig: Rimas, do you want to debate that at all?
Rimas: That my voice is great? Yes, I can debate that all day long, because it is great.
Craig: Yeah, I think your blog post is the most definitive thing. One thing I have seen sometimes take off is TechCrunch articles.
Rimas: Well, hold on, hold on. Going back to the blog post thing, are we talking about your personal blog that you're doing this stuff on? Or should this be part of the company's blog?
Malia: Company blog.
Rimas: Okay, so if I write my company's blog and this is you know, post number one, do I have to worry about that? In that scenario? That I just created this blog, just now, just for this one thing? Or should I have some more stuff there before I start thinking about posting to these sites like Hacker News.
Malia: I think, goes back to if you've been a active contributor in the community, that holds a lot of clout. If not, if it's blog post number one, ask someone in your network to maybe post that first one. Start driving traffic there. Meanwhile, you continue to engage with that community and build yourself up, and then within no time, with good content you should have your own platform.
Rimas: Okay, so it sounds like I need some credibility first. If this is the company's first blog post, probably not a good idea.
Malia: I think so.
Craig: All right, so we've been on a lot of Hacker News. What other channels do people ask about, or think about?
Malia: Product Hunt. So, people want to launch their company same day as their seed funding announcement, to drive as much traffic as possible that day. So I get a lot of questions on, what's the strategy there. And there's some basic things that you can do. Find an influencer that can hunt your product, be available that day as the maker, post immediately. Post at midnight to hit all the markets, 24 hours on that day, and the next day.
Product Hunt's a big one, and it's a little bit easier to have a community around Product Hunt. They're not as strict on sharing, you're not going to necessarily get flagged for self-promotion.
Craig: Yeah, I think the team there is pretty open to it, as long as you engage. I think actually, for the podcast, we were very lucky that I think Hiten Shah hunted our first one. Hiten is a friend that has a nice big following, I think something like 100,000 Twitter followers. So a good reach, and then suddenly it's like "Oh, okay great, we were number one I think in the podcasts for that week, or that day". Which, as we should be, but it was still a lot of good notice.
And I think for a lot of developer companies, they don't think about it as much. There's definitely the pull on the consumer side, there, but there's still a big kind of developer community, and it's an interesting one. Because I think from the Citus standpoint, when we've launched things there, major product announcements, it's a completely different audience than we got from Hacker News, and it was much more customer oriented. There's an interest to buy there.
Malia: Interesting. Yeah, the developer tool category has, I believe around 50,000 followers and over 2500 companies that have launched within it. So it's a strong community. Also,
If you subscribe to the newsletter, oftentimes the Product Hunt team will do a dev tool special, and there is a chance to get included in that.
Some additional promo for doing very little, but getting tagged in that category when you submit.
Rimas: If I'm launching a product, though, and I'm looking to get signups, is Product Hunt really the best place to do that? The reason I'm asking is because I've done product launches at other companies, at other places, at other outlets. And sometimes you launch in these places, and these aren't necessarily the customers that you want signing up for your product, and or, they may sign up, but then they're gone a week later.
Malia: Yeah, I recently did a product launch for a seed company. They were targeting very specific video developers. Got media coverage across major outlets, and Product Hunt, and Hacker News were their two main draws of customer. They had a lot of signups, and I think 15% converted, which was a couple hundred thousand, if things go well in ARR. So to answer your question, I've seen the right audience in Product Hunt, signing up for the beta.
Craig: So, Product Hunt sounds like an interesting and possibly right audience for actually revenue and customers. It sounds like you don't have to worry about some of the same kind of flagging issues. What are some of the best practices though, because I think it's very different than Hacker News. You engage in a slightly different way. What do you need to do to actively engage in that community?
Malia: It's like Hacker News.
You can't just be pushing your product all the time. Hunt other people, comment, just be active, show your voice. And then when it does come to your day, that you actually do launch, be just as active. Spend most of the morning answering questions, pinging people.
Rimas: This sounds like quite a time investment. Can we create a new product here? What should we call it, like, engagement as a service, maybe? A new category?
Craig: That's what PR Magically does, right?
Rimas: Oh, yeah, that's right.
Craig: I've heard from a little bit of the team there about some good best practices. One, actively engage.
The best thing you can do when you submit to Product Hunt is to post the first comment.
Say, "Hey, we're here, we're listening, come chat with us." They especially enjoy that. Another thing that I actually thought was interesting, because you know Citus is a distributed database. We're a database, we're not visual people, but they're like, "Do you have an animated GIF to show?"
Like a good, high quality, high-res image. which is really surprising to me, but I forget if they shared any numbers with me. But they're like, anything with an animated GIF, whether it's a demo of your product, spend a little time prepping that video stuff, does massively better. I don't know what the percentages were, but those do massively better.
Malia: And the ad space itself, it's a specific size. So if you have a image, have your designer create one that will fit so that it's not cut off when you're just looking at your company.
Craig: Yeah, I think I've been guilty of uploading one of the cut-off ones before. So, spend some time ahead of time, prep, right? All these things should be done, not that morning when you're scrambling to try to submit things, have it all lined up ahead of time.
Rimas: Wait, didn't we have an episode where we talked about product launches and you're supposed to do all this work ahead of time?
Craig: I thought you were supposed to do it the morning of.
Rimas: Okay, so we talked about Product Hunt a little bit, we talked about Hacker News. I think Craig, you mentioned that there was another outlet here, that I personally would like to cover. You mentioned TechCrunch, right?
To me, TechCrunch feels more like a traditional media outlet in that it's not the same type of community atmosphere that you would find on Hacker News, and or Product Hunt.
Can you kind of walk me through some, maybe similarities or differences in that regard and how those audiences react to any press that, or any information that shows up there relative to your company?
Malia: Yeah, I mean you're spot on in that, different communities. TechCrunch is a general audience, still technology, but it's not going to be your Hacker News developers.
Craig: So, general meaning you have node developers and Java developers? Or general in what sense?
Malia: General in that a lot of people reading TechCrunch don't know what node or Java is. Very general, there are consumer apps on there.
Craig: I don't understand, there are people like that in the world?
Rimas: So, but it's still a pretty technical, or entrepreneurial audience, right?
Malia: Yeah, I'd say it's a very Silicon Valley audience. Technical chops, a lot of venture attention from it. I think it's great for recruitment. I haven't seen it necessarily drive major customer acquisition for companies. It's more of a general awareness thing, SEO Play.
Craig: When you say it doesn't drive acquisition, it doesn't drive that immediate acquisition, like, you don't see the signup right away.
Malia: Immediate, correct.
Rimas: I think you call that brand awareness, right? Is that something that this does for you? Like you get on TechCrunch, and it's a way, just so the name of your company and the name of your products permeate the psyche of the technology individual?
Malia: Yeah, it's a great vanity metric, it's great for every time you type it into Google it's going to populate as one of the first things you see about the company. So from a SEO standpoint.
Craig: And it does help with acquisition from that long tail sum, right? Not to directly diminish it. I think when you say it's a different audience, a more general audience.
At TechCrunch, there are directors of IT, there's maybe CTOs reading it that aren't codeing on an active basis. There are heads of marketing that have influence in some of these products. Those people have influence in a buying decision as you grow and have bigger deals.
Rimas: So there are comments at the end of any of the posts on TechCrunch. Do you need to be actively engaged in those?
Malia: I've never been asked that. I don't particularly read them.
Rimas: Okay, so, that sounds like no.
Craig: Sounds like not the same way you engage with Product Hunt, Hacker News.
Malia: Yeah, they seem to be always a little bit trolly, negative, from what I've read. But I'll be the first to admit, I haven't spent a lot of time reading them.
Craig: There's never troll comments on Hacker News.
Rimas: Or the internet in general, right?
Craig: So, we talked about Hacker News, right? Really good content, building a product, and kind of build a community on Product Hunt. TechCrunch, how do you get on there? What's that process? because I think I get the others, it's votes, right? That's how you get on the rest of these. What is the process for getting on TechCrunch look like?
Malia: Yeah, I think, there's a couple different ways. So are you thinking product launch? Funding announcement, just in general?
Craig: Yeah, all of the above a little bit, right? I think there's actually a really good talk in the Heavybit library, talking about the seven press APIs. So there's like a funding announcement, there's a product launch, there's an acquisition, there's a partnership, I forget all of them.
A really good talk by Adam Gross that kind of walks through these and how they rank. There's one that's, I think, much easier. But given any of them, how do you go about the process?
Malia: Yeah, so there's usually different buckets. So it's going to be major company news, product launch, like you said, acquisition. Funding, TechCrunch is a very venture-based outlet, so funding is its own bucket. And then you'll have a whole thought leadership that you can comment on recent events, things like that. Talking about product launches, funding announcements, research. Research who is covering you. Say you're a serverless platform, see who's written about the serverless landscape recently on TechCrunch.
If you do this, you'll probably see that it's Ron Miller, or Frederic Lardinois at that outlet. So start reading, start following them. Start retweeting them. Start engaging in conversation if you can. Oftentimes, they are not local, so see what city they're in. If you happen to be there, just shoot them an email. TechCrunch especially has gotten better, most media outlets actually, now usually have their reporter email address in their Twitter bio or easily accessible in their outlet bio.
So if you can, start building a relationship there, if you don't have outside PR help. So once you put together a list of the reporters that are interested in this kind of topic, you need to develop your story. Which actually should be going on simultaneously. Building how you're going to be messaging your product or your funding announcement, what you want the world to know. And then from that, figuring out, what's my press hook? What's going to be interesting to the press? How does it fit into the greater industry landscape?
Craig: So, let me retrace some of that. So it sounds like, most reporters have a common beat. It's not like I can hit any one of them, right? This is, who's the reporter for my area? Then, how do I start to engage with them, right? You shouldn't just do it cold. Some of them have very different styles. Actually, I know Ron likes to do a lot of research, really in depth, and drill in. He doesn't want you to send over a "Here's my three bullet points," he wants to drill in and ask questions, and be on the phone with you for an hour, and then go back and do some further research.
So he likes to be pretty in depth. Others I know want the bullet points, want to sit in a cave and write, and have their style, so you kind of have to develop it a little bit over time. You're not going to have that on day one. Maybe, unless you work with a PR agency, right? So, that's one thing that you kind of hit on. Like, what if you do have a PR agency, what if you don't? How do you handle that piece?
Malia: If you don't, you can start building those relationships like I said, via meetings, following on Twitter, just following them in general. Shoot a note, quick introduction, and then try and send useful information that might be good for them. If they've written an article, comment on it, shoot them an email and be like, "I thought this was interesting for these reasons."
As much as possible, try and just understand where their mindset is, understand where their interests are, how they tick, and then structure your pitch accordingly.
Craig: Yeah, I think Twitter's a great one. Twitter, they're accessible, they're engaging, just be active. Though, I think this is starting to now sound a little similar again to Hacker News and Product Hunt. You have to engage, you have to be active. You can't just show up and have it happen.
Rimas: Can you engage too much?
Malia: I think so. These reporters are busy, they get hundreds of emails a day. So you need to understand your place in their greater day-to-day. Even when it comes to pitching. If you don't hear back, give them a couple days. Don't call them that afternoon.
Craig: So that's one I'm curious on. Pitching, do you follow up? When, how far out do you pitch, what's the timeline there?
Malia: It's going to be depending on what the news is. If it's major breaking news, how quickly the deadline is.
Craig: If you're acquired, can you delay the acquisition until they're ready to write about it?
Craig: How far out do you try to even pitch them on it, whether it's a cold email, or a friendly email, or working with a PR company. How far out do you do that first pitch, and then, what if you don't hear back? When do you follow up?
Malia: So it depends on the news. Major news that's going to be breaking in a couple days, I'd follow up a couple times, maybe even later that afternoon, the next morning. A reporter, at that point, is going to be very gracious of the relationship, you should have one.
Craig: Major news, is that a product launch?
Malia: No, probably more like a major acquisition, maybe a partnership with like a Google or Amazon, but a big one. Industry shaking things that would probably hit the first page of Techmeme.
Product launch, or even funding announcement, probably want to pitch the reporter 10 to 14 days ahead of time. Let them know this news is coming out, that you'd love a pre-brief the next week.
They likely are attending conferences, have other breaking news, breaking news could happen that week. So give them time to write your article.
Craig: You hit on one thing right there, I think, that's very, a thing to be conscious of, is conferences and other news. Especially I think with TechCrunch, right? We're about to have Dreamforce, Oracle OpenWorld. No matter what happens at those, there's probably something, there's a good chance they're covering, right? During Reinvent, guess what, Amazon's going to have priority over you, if there's news. So, actually steering clear of those on product launches is a very good thing to do.
Rimas: Should I be worried about, 14 days prior to a funding announcement or a product launch or something, sharing that kind of information with an individual ahead of time?
Malia: Yeah, so you should not share any information that you don't want public until a reporter agrees to embargo. Take a funding announcement, for example. You can say the company name, XX company is going to be announcing a seed round on this date with a prominent Silicon Valley venture firm. And then, you can provide some customer info, if it's publicly facing. Some momentum facts. But until a reporter agrees to embargo, you can't expect it to be kept confidential.
Rimas: What is, can you describe embargo to me?
Malia: Yeah, so an embargo is a date when a reporter is officially allowed to report on the news. Oftentimes, with a press release, you'll say, "This press release is under embargo until 7:30 a.m. eastern time on October 3rd."
Rimas: And so this is like a contract that's in place, or how's it work?
Malia: Usually it's written, it's actually quite informal. It's not something that journalists need to sign.
Craig: But the journalist, if they ask for it, you say it's under embargo till this time, and then you're usually okay.
Malia: Correct. Depends on your news. For a product launch, you don't sometimes need to be very strict with a journalist. If they come back and say, "I'm interested, can I pass major news?" it can't hurt to say, "Please agree to embargo," and a journalist should always say, "I agree to embargo." And that right there is enough. It's not a written form, it's a email communication.
Craig: Do you ever have to worry about them being completely broken? How well regarded is this embargo? This is my first launch, I'm doing a lot for it, how much do I have to worry there?
Malia: First launch? You probably don't have to worry much about your embargo being broken, sometimes it can be a good thing, actually, that it got leaked. But for a later stage company, you should take it very seriously.
Craig: But it's usually pretty well upheld, you don't have to worry. I've seen some times where a reporter accidentally went early, they got the time wrong. Some things happen. Days off is usually rare, and hour or two off, you know. It's a little painful, but then they've also, reach out to them. "Hey, this wasn't supposed to drop, this was supposed to be under embargo." They'll usually roll it back and try to make it right.
Rimas: So it's okay to give some information ahead of time, but I should exercise some finesse with how I deliver that. Just to make sure, that if there is something sensitive, to not spill the beans all at once.
Malia: Yeah, a little finesse. But like Craig mentioned, there's a good relationship between PR reporters, founders reporters. Be careful, but they're not trying to screw you over by any means. Especially in the early days. Your company's not going to be huge news for them, particularly. It's more your relationship. Getting them to cover you is great.
Craig: So, you've been on the PR side for a bit. One thing that I've heard from some founders, you know, can I just do it myself? Can I just pitch them, build the relationship, which I know a lot of press does like to talk to the founder, they want to talk to the product manager. They want to actually hear it from the horse's mouth. But I think there's the other side that's not always valued to the person that thinks they can create the pitch.
A lot of PR agencies make sure there's a quality, right? They're not going to go and pitch a story that's not a real story. So, there's some value there, in working with an agency, to help make sure of that quality bar is up, is that about right? How should a PM or a founder or a developer value the PR agency? How should they approach that relationship on pitching?
Malia: Well, there are two things.
I think, in the early days of starting a company, a founder can do their own PR.
Craig: How long can they do that for? How big?
Malia: Depends what they need. It depends what they need, what they need PR to do for them, at that moment in time. I've seen companies that have had zero PR to Series D, E, and are just killing it. Otherwise companies that needed that little boost and visibility, and have had customer acquisition. So it kind of, definitely varies. It's hard to give a full answer on when you should bring in PR.
I think around your first major company launch, seed funding, some advisor help, someone to push you through that. Series A, once you start having some product launches, formal Series A announcement, either someone in-house that's able to run your demand gen marketing function, and has PR knowledge, a more senior person, or if you have just small budget agency help at that stage is also appropriate.
Craig: I'll put you on the spot here, and you may not want to name any names, do you know any small budget agencies? Like, how do I even find one? What's a small budget agency, how do I find one, are there recommendations? I don't have a big budget, but I need help. Who do you recommend?
Malia: So, PR agency, small budget, is very difficult. Under 10K per month, you're not going to get a ton. Between 2k and 5k, you can usually get out a product launch, major press release, formal announcement. There are boutique tech agencies in the city that will do project-based, 10K's worth of work. Some of those include Method , Rowland Agency, Blanc & Otus.
There are a lot of boutiques. You have to be careful with the agency model because unless you're a founder who has had experience managing an agency, or an in-house person that understands how agencies work and can really harness the power of an agency, you're probably better off either doing it yourself or hiring just one, a freelance PR specialist that can get you through that launch at that stage.
Craig: Yeah, I think we hit on some of that in our previous episode around product launches. It's not a silver bullet, you have to actually still spend time, and if you're unfamiliar with that process expect to spend some time learning it, right? You still have to refine your pitch, and they can definitely help amplify it, but they're not a magic bullet for you making sure you have the right message.
Rimas: Okay, so, I've got one last question. Can you tell me if there's anything, for product managers especially, is there anything that they should know when it comes to PR? Because they aren't necessarily the ones that are running the company, per se, and have that credibility to say, "I'm the one that's built this thing, put this out there." And if they're the ones tasked with some kind of launch, or doing something else, any advice for them?
Craig: Yeah, it's rare for them to probably be the spokesperson on a funding announcement or a acquisition, but they're the ones shipping a lot of products. So what do they need to be thinking about, in particular?
Malia: I think project managers should consider PR a weapon for them to use in their own efforts. So, as much as they can have a voice in directing the messaging that they want, and share, what are their pain points when it comes to marketing?
Where are potential customers falling off the mark, and then relaying that back to PR and like, "Hey, this is a gap, this is how we need to address that with the greater industry." Resulting coverage, hopefully they can use that coverage in their content strategy as a product marketer. So my advice would be, work as closely together, so that you can combine efforts.
Craig: Yeah, I think it makes a ton of sense. I think what we were talking about, with actively engaged in the communities, actively engage with your customers makes a good launch. You should be doing this as a product manager anyways. In some sense, it might even be easier to be involved in these communities, because you should already be doing it as part of your day-to-day.
Rimas: It adds that credibility to, not only yourself, but the products that you're launching, right? By engaging in these communities and it does give you an edge against other PMs out there, who are maybe launching competitive products. Thanks for coming on the show today.
Malia: Thanks for having me.