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Think Big. Move Fast.

The following is a guest blog posting by Laurie Thornton,the principal and co-founder of Radiate PR, a boutique public relations agency representing emerging growth companies in the Silicon Valley and beyond. Radiate is also Lightspeed Venture Partners‘ PR firm.
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While attending the Lightspeed Internet User Acquisition Summit last month, three of Silicon Valley’s most respected journalists – Matt Marshall of VentureBeat, Rebecca Buckman of the Wall Street Journal and Erika Brown of Forbes — offered some insider tips on PR. Whether you’re familiar with the ins-and-outs of the process, most agree that public relations can deliver tangible results: drive significant Web traffic, fuel user acquisition and contribute directly to a company’s bottom-line. Here’s a snapshot of what was shared that afternoon, plus a few more thoughts on the ABCs of publicity, aimed at first-time, do-it-yourself entrepreneurs.

-Know Your Target – Take Careful Aim
: Any practitioner will tell you that tailoring a story pitch is essential. It’s well worth the time to thoroughly research the target outlet, understand the readership and know what the specific journalist covers. Sought after reporters receive upwards of 200 pitches a day. You won’t even make the first cut if your story idea isn’t spot-on.

-Implement the 30-Second Rule: The editorial world is saturated, so engaging a journalist at the outset is the hardest part of the job. Make the pitches brief – no more than a few short paragraphs. Too much text is a turn off! Craft your story idea as a well devised teaser and the reporter will be more likely to respond. You’ve got very little time to get their attention, so make it count.

-It’s Not Just About You: The majority of journalists won’t write about Company X’s new product, but they might cover it within the context of a larger category article or trend story. Consider Jaxtr, a VoIP contender. Here’s an opportunity to tell a David vs. Goliath story about how their service stacks up against Skype, the reigning industry behemoth who is generating some negative headlines at the moment. Package a timely story idea about how your company is making its own notable impact, or uniquely competing in the broader market.

-Users Tell it Best
: During my firm’s nearly four-year tenure representing LinkedIn, we frequently parlayed user success stories to demonstrate the tangible value of a social network for business – one that could help you land a job, get a trusted referral, etc. With these editorial placements, user sign-ups measurably increased. Then there’s PeerTrainer, a social network for diet and fitness, who utilized astonishing ‘before and after shots’ of a successful user. The compelling story of this woman’s personal journey landed her on the cover of People Magazine, where she directly credited PeerTrainer with her 100-pound weight loss. For both companies, the testimonials proved the most convincing and powerful way to attract and secure new users, and motivate existing ones.

-Patience, My Friends: The PR process can be likened to the sales cycle. Can you imagine your business development guy closing a major deal with a coveted strategic partner with one intro email and a single follow up call? Coverage doesn’t always happen overnight.

-Play Fair, or Don’t Play at All: We expect journalists to be fair, accurate and truthful in their reporting. Conversely, we need to play by the same rules. Always be straightforward and don’t cover up or candy coat the facts. Also, if you ever offer an exclusive – stick to your commitment. Forge reciprocal relationships with journalists. They pay off for both you and the reporters – everyone can win.

-Oh, Yeah — Please Don’t Forget About the Product: A solid product that tracks to its promised claims is a check-box requirement for any successful PR program. Expectations are extremely high, even in the early Beta phase. Budget and bandwidth constraints aside, don’t rush out before a product is adequately tested and refined. The press and other critics will take notice. Not even a really clever PR pro can compensate for an offering that doesn’t deliver. Resist the temptation to simply get your offering out there as quickly as possible before it’s really ready. If you can, take that extra time to make your product shine from day one. The great publicity will follow.