Media coverage can often make or break a startup, but pitching journalists can be daunting. On the other hand, hiring PR firms can be very costly and often not yield a meaningful return on investment.
Especially early on, entrepreneurs are wise to utilize their alma maters to jumpstart their PR efforts. Reason being, schools have an inherent need to brag about their alumni because they look good when their alums do cool stuff.
The challenge is that schools’ alumni directors often struggle to track down meaningful stories about their alumni, which they can then share with the entire alumni community. This is because most of us feel awkward calling our high school or college and spouting off about our awesome new businesses. As the saying goes, the spouting whale gets harpooned.
Even entrepreneurs who have no problem tweeting each company milestone and posting every picture on Instagram don’t always remember to properly collaborate with their alma mater and capitalize on this win-win situation. So before you spend more time or another dime on PR, here are three ways your company will benefit, while also helping your alma mater:
While you may not make it onto the cover of Entrepreneur magazine straight out of the gate, coverage from a source more objective than your company’s blog -- even an alumni publication -- will lend credibility to your cause. You’ll also have a new story to send out to your clients, prospective clients and journalists. You can get a boost in search engine optimization, especially if the digital story links back to your website or contains keywords pertaining to your company. And most schools have at least one form of social media which they can use to spread the word.
Refine your own story.
You need to be able to clearly explain what your company does, how it does it and why people should care. Speaking to an alumni audience will help you refine this messaging and figure out what works best. You want to connect with your audience and also be memorable, while leaving your audience with a clear message. Later as you begin to attract mainstream media coverage, you’ll often need to augment your messaging to the specific audiences to which a publication caters.
In the early days at FieldLevel, we struggled to effectively speak to our various audiences in sports, technology, venture capital and business. But by gaining practice with our alma mater, the University of Southern California, we were able to better focus our own story. And when USC began talking about our company, the alumni support was incredible. We immediately heard from people wanting to offer assistance.
Get recognition from prominent alumni.
You never know what great things can come from an alumni network until you put yourself out there. Most alumni want to support their schools and help fellow alumni. For example, if you’re looking for more media coverage, alumni may include writers, editors or someone able to put you in touch with just the right person. Alumni can also become your mentors, advisors or investors.
Before you fire up an email to your school’s alumni director, you may want to consider the following.
Be honest with yourself, are you doing something that moves the needle and makes the school look good? For instance, your highly disruptive drug smuggling startup may be innovative and wildly profitable, but it is probably not going to help the school’s image. You want your company to get faculty talking and current students saying, “It’s awesome that alum is doing that!”
Related: How to Make Company Announcements in Buzzworthy Ways
When reaching out to your alma mater, first get in touch with someone who knows you well, a former professor, a teacher or even a coach. It’s best to have someone who can attest to your character and will vouch for you, regardless of your company. Tell this person what you’re doing. Ask if he or she thinks it would be a good representation of the school and if so, who you should talk to about it.
Lastly, your alma mater is typically any school that you’ve previously attended. However, you should also consider your church, your community service group or even your bowling league…OK, probably not your bowling league unless you have a bowling startup. But you may find PR synergy with any organization of which you’ve been a part that has the ability to speak to a captive audience, sharing a common interest.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Kai Sato is the co-founder of FieldLevel, Inc, the largest private social network for coaches to recruit athletic talent. Kai also blogs about the intersection of sports and entrepreneurship for The Huffington Post and works with nonprofits in Los Angeles.