Blogs  / November 20, 2013

Hacking Hammerling: what this tech PR queen bee gets right

by Rebekah Iliff

A few months ago, after writing this blog post bemoaning an Inc.com article about how simple it is to do your own PR, I received this tweet from Brooke Hammerling – who is quite well known in tech PR circles.

Brooke tweet

There have been a few other tweets from @brooke over the course of the past year (most a lil’ snarky, but I like snark so it’s all good) with regard to Onclusive. In my opinion, these tweets serve to generate a healthy dialogue among skeptics…because most great PR people know how to incite conversation. It’s what they do…they get things moving.

I’ve watched Brew PR (her firm) for the past several years, and I respect what they do and how they do it. And mostly, Brooke is spot on when she talks about PR and what it takes to get your story out there.

This week I wanted to highlight three important points about PR with the assistance of Brooke’s insights and Onclusive’s data. Now THAT is a powerful, snark-on-snark, combo.

In a recent post on First Round Capital’s blog, Brooke provides a very solid argument about why startups don’t “get” media. It’s a brilliant overview of how startups and founders should be thinking about PR. You should read it after you read my post, obviously.

#1 – A solid media plan needs a runway of three to six months

She asserts: “Even if you have a couple weeks and marketing material, that’s not enough. It’s not going to be effective and it’s going to look fake. When a company does this — and plenty still do — nine times out of 10 a launch will get botched, and they never get another shot at it.”

Our data show: “911” PR doesn’t work and many of companies we see come through our Marketplace (and we subsequently “reject” from the platform) believe they can hire someone today and be on the cover of Time next week. These misaligned expectations will kill any attempt at a productive PR campaign. Messaging, narrative, and product positioning take planning. For a startup, I think six months is probably a little long, but certainly 60-90 days should be standard planning period prior to launch.

#2 – It’s all about relationships

According to Brooke: “You don’t need to be a communications pro to make them. The obvious rules apply: be smart, pay attention, and don’t be rude. But there’s a bevy of other hacks for getting noticed.”

Our data show: We’ve built solid relationships with roughly 20 journalists we believe are important for telling the story about Onclusive (forwarding the narrative) while also being influential in terms of the customers we need to reach. For our recent Analyst launch, we had 10 media targets, nine of which have run or will be running stories by the end of the year. That’s a 90% success rate…but it’s high because we’ve spent hundreds of hours building these relationships.

If you’re a startup and you don’t have a track record with media, hiring a firm can offset this dearth of relationships. But if your founder or someone internally has these relationships and is outgoing enough to pursue them, you can often handle this internally – but like any relationship, they require attention and cultivation.

#3 – Don’t think about exclusives, think about relevant storylines

Last but not least Brooke offers a great insight, one which many PR pros will argue isn’t the right approach: “Giving exclusives will end up hurting your ability to build relationships in the long run, creating bad blood with all the other journalists who didn’t get the story. In the tech blog world, if someone posted something 30 seconds earlier, it’s perceived as an exclusive, even if it’s the exact same story. So you have to be very careful.”

Our data show: For both our Marketplace and Analyst launches we didn’t do an embargo and we didn’t do exclusives. We gave the journalists (we knew and trusted) basic info about the products long before our launch, then attempted to tie the product into a larger storyline, relevant to trends and to their audience.

One example: Because the Twitter IPO essentially dominated the tech media the week of our Analyst launch, we pulled some insights from our product and compared Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn IPO press coverage and how it related to stock price.

No one ended up writing about that particular angle (see below for this exclusive reveal – oops, did I just say “exclusive”?), but it showed a commitment to being creative and thinking outside the box. Not just saying: “Here, Mr. or Mrs. Journalist, we have a really great product with really amazing features and you should write about it.”

Onclusive Analyst IPO Trends

Perhaps my favorite quote of all from Ms. Hammerling:

“Negativity never wins. If you’re a huge company, sure you might be able to pull off being snarky or sassy, but as a startup, all you should be is respectful of your competition. If you have to, talk about it like you’re all part of the same community and then bring it back to you.”

Oh Brooke, I couldn’t agree more.

Read her full post here.