Today, at the MassTLC unConference in Boston, I was part of a media and press relations clinic that columnist Scott Kirsner led, along with Jen Reddy, SVP of Global Marketing for Communispace; Bernd Leger, Vice President of Marketing at Localytics; and Adam Zand, PR manager at TomTom.
The session, aimed at helping companies learn how to raise their visibility, became a Shark Tank-style pitch fest where founders stood up and explained why someone should want to cover them. First, it should be said, there were some great business ideas in that room at the Hynes Convention Center: crowd-sourcing for new video games; turning a photo of white board notes into a Google doc; and a solution to allow employees who may be dispersed to all sign good-bye cards for colleagues who are moving on.
The most common problems we saw among these early-stage companies included:
- Unclear business strategy. How are you monetizing this product? Is it an app for the enterprise or for students? Who are your competitors? These are all questions that the audience asked of those who were “pitching.” Needless to say, one needs answers before creating a communications strategy that outlines which reporters to target, what topics to pitch and even the tone of your Twitter feed.
- Unclear messaging. We heard elevator pitches that left more questions than answers. The audience, grasping to understand sometimes complex ideas entrepreneurs were presenting, would try to find existing models to compare them to. In one instance, they asked, “Will you operate more like Pinterest or Curata?” Indeed, it’s a great idea to test your messages before going to market. And it’s also important to have simple case studies or examples to offer. But it’s impossible to pitch the media if you cannot succinctly explain to a reporter in less than one minute exactly what you do. They will give up. Just ask Scott Kirsner.
- Undefined target audience. Are you trying to reach a general business audience, parents or the financial community? Some companies are trying to reach all of the above, in which case they need to tailor their story to that audience’s perspective. This includes the media too. Using the same pitch for business, consumer and financial press would never work.
Of course, despite all of these issues, sometimes you get lucky, and your product or service is so compelling and fresh, that even if you cannot explain it well or answer every question, a journalist may want to write about it. Which is exactly what happened to one lucky participant today, when Kirsner interviewed him after the session. I won’t name the company here, because Kirsner is happy to have this story exclusively, and when it comes to the media, relationships still matter. And we’re happy a young entrepreneur will get some much-needed publicity as a result.