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PR: Article

Visibility Is Vital

An insider's guide to being a smart startup

We know that many of our readers work in smaller, high-tech startups and are trying to grow businesses based on Linux and open source software (or are thinking about it!). We thought this article on helping smaller companies like these with visibility and strategies for their businesses might be fun and useful.

How can small Linux companies get their products noticed? Start with brand recognition and common sense.

Whether your company is large or small, established or a startup, there will always be different PR challenges associated with gaining your products visibility. Established enterprise software vendors will have much different challenges gaining visibility for their individual products than startups just getting recognized in general. All companies - large or small, young or old - must understand their audience in order to reach the people who will buy or influence the purchase of their products. Once the target audiences are determined, the challenges associated with gaining product visibility can be identified.

Determining a product's PR challenge can be especially difficult for new companies just getting their marketing efforts developed. Small companies can do well by remembering basic branding strategies; in particular, knowing the distinction between building brand recognition versus equity. Established, incumbent vendors have earned brand recognition over time, and now must focus on maintaining brand equity when creating media attention for their products. Too many startups mistake building brand recognition with building brand equity. Brand recognition is relatively easier to build, and lays the groundwork for building brand equity down the road.

Brand Recognition

Fortunately, it is relatively easy for startups to build recognition today using smart tactics that larger companies would find difficult to implement. For example:

  • Make sure you have competitors: Many small companies want to believe that they have no competitors. While this is a great motivational tactic for your team, realistically if you have no competitors, you are not in an industry. Don't be afraid to engage media influencers on the same issues that the "big boys" are discussing. Who knows, as a startup, chances are you can provide something to your media contacts that your "big boy" competitors cannot, which is direct access to your executives for content.
  • Avoid buzzwords: It is a myth that your startup is "revolutionizing" anything; if it is, leave it to the press to say so. Press releases and media outreach should function as an invitation for a journalist/media contact to talk to your company. If you are promising to "revolutionize" something, and you don't, then you have just sacrificed a long-term relationship. More than anything else, your contacts want relationships.
  • Don't be afraid to be a resource: I have worked with companies where I have been accused of knowing our competitors' products better than our own. The fact of the matter is, you should never know your competitors better than yourself, but if you know your company well, nothing should stop you from knowing your competitors well. Being an expert in your competitive landscape will compel your influencers to seek you out and will enable you to always provide a broader context to every news hook.

    There are particular challenges for a startup servicing the Linux community. The main thing that companies need to know about the Linux movement, before they can talk about it, is that the Linux movement, as well as the Linux media movement, is largely developer driven versus vendor driven. One direct implication of a developer-driven movement is that in this context, public relations can be as simple as asking your Linux engineers what is relevant today. The Linux audience tends to be more technically inclined (and usually requests more technical information). Startups should foster these relationships with the technical side of their organization.

    There are several other particular rules of thumb that small Linux companies and startups should keep in mind when contacting the Linux media:

  • Do good with the community, and the community does good with you. Because of the nature of Linux development, community-minded people (and companies) are the ones that will ultimately be rewarded by the Linux community. If your product doesn't fit a community need, it'll be tough getting noticed. Likewise, if your media outreach doesn't fit a journalist's need, it'll be tough getting noticed.
  • If a writer writes, what is PR? The goal of every PR effort for any technology company should ultimately be to be a resource for your public audience, which includes editors and journalists. There are many ways to be a resource and start-ups should take advantage of this. With a little creativity and an understanding that the Linux audience is more technical, clever startups can create just as much mind share as the largest Fortune 100 technology company.
  • Nobody knows everything. Many PR professionals are self-conscious about engaging in technical discussions due to lack of technical experience. "I don't know, but I'll find out," is an acceptable answer. It's okay not to know everything, as long as you can get the answers to anything. You can never know every resource you might need, but you can know where your internal resources are and how to access them when needed. And above all else, never force irrelevant information on people.

    The only thing worse than an unknown startup is a startup known for the wrong things. By giving consideration to the brand you want recognized early on while being a trustworthy resource to the public, your company can bulletproof its steps toward building great brand equity. Keeping these rules for obtaining visibility in mind, you will learn that the key to success in building a great brand, no matter how large your company, involves honesty, time, and common sense.

  • More Stories By Kelly LeBlanc

    Kelly LeBlanc is a seasoned communications professional in Silicon Valley, with experience executing PR strategies for technology companies of all sizes. Among her other professional responsibilities, Kelly currently serves as an advisor to Den Industries, a nonprofit PR agency servicing the open source media and analyst communities.

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