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It's Not Rocket Science: 4 Secrets Behind Good PR for Startups

The concept of marketing is not that hard for people to grasp. But just ask someone what "public relations" (PR) means and you’ll often be met with stammering or shrugging, or some combination of the two.

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Though not many people understand what actually constitutes "PR," most grasp that it relates to a business’ public image and how that image might be refined and expanded. Yet, for all that, public relations still retains an aura of mystery, even among savvy business leaders.

The result is that many companies, especially those in the startup phase, miss out on the benefits of laying a solid public relations foundation. So, allow me to cut through the shroud of secrecy and quash the mystique. Great PR is possible -- and it’s honestly not that hard. Here’s a look at what goes on behind the scenes, and four things you can do to establish and further your own public relations efforts.

1. Understand the nature of the industry.

Journalism has changed dramatically in recent times, thanks to technology, and it’s imperative to understand the role of the press to maximize your own business’ media relations.

The "always on" aspect of online journalism has had an impact on media professionals themselves: In a recent study, 68 percent of journalists surveyed said their jobs had become more difficult in the last few years, and 52 percent said they were required to produce at least five articles per week.

Such a heavy workload is difficult and stressful to maintain. So, to obtain coverage for your business and its products or services, you need to deliver high-quality stories to the right journalists and to be efficient in your communications. This means thoroughly researching the publications and reporters or editors whom you plan to contact and ensuring that they cover your chosen area of expertise.

2. Start with a goal,

Since most startup leaders are not intimately familiar with the ins and outs of public relations, they need to be hungry for knowledge in order to create buzz for their company. You can’t become a PR expert overnight, but you can find resources to help you understand how certain categories of public relations can further your specific goals.

For example, say you’re about to embark on a big hiring push and are looking to recruit top talent. In this instance, you might want to pursue a “Best Places to Work” award. Or, if you’re looking to further brand awareness, you might research how you can contribute articles to third-party publications. These types of tactics are rooted in a goal, and therefore more likely to help achieve your larger business objectives.

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3. Commit time, not money.

Publications and digital outlets remain high-impact avenues for getting your brand noticed. Case in point: Digital ad revenue across all media recently grew by almost 20 percent to around $50 billion. But the beauty of PR, as opposed to advertising, is that you don’t have to sacrifice a large chunk of your budget to it.

Sure, PR tactics can be costly if you pay an agency, outsource writing needs to freelancers or throw money at newswire services. But these things come later, once you’ve laid a solid foundation. The truth is that good PR, especially for startups, requires more time than money.

Instead of paying for an agency or newswire service initially, start by creating an active, robust blog. Also commit yourself to thoroughly researching members of the media who are up your business’ alley and may agree to give you coverage at some point.

4. Keep it simple.

PR and its associated tentacles can be confusing, and many people perpetuate this by further overcomplicating it. Creativity is great, but sometimes methods that are tried and true are your best initial bet. For example, a study recently found that 83 percent of journalists surveyed preferred to be pitched via email.

So, even though you want to stand out from the crowd, start your pitch with an email. You’ll stand out far more by offering an interesting piece of news to the right journalist than by trying to get fancy in your pitching approach.

Finally, winning media coverage, speaking engagements and awards can seem like so much hocus-pocus, but they really are nothing more than the result of hard work -- and good timing. So, please don’t be daunted; the tactics PR pros use every day are hardly profound. If you’re serious about establishing PR for your startup, recognize that that goal is going to take time and a whole lot of due diligence.

However, if you educate yourself on how to appropriately approach each area of PR (and are willing to consistently repeat these efforts over time), you will absolutely experience the rewards. It’s really that simple.

Related: The Ingredients of a Press Kit