Do Midwest Startups Have a PR Problem?

This week while scanning the news, I saw an article that struck a chord. It talked about the Columbus startup scene and how startups here don’t often get featured in major tech publications like TechCrunch—because they don’t reach out to TechCrunch.

The article was based on thoughts shared by TechCrunch editor John Biggs during a recent interview with Columbus Business First, “TechCrunch editor to Columbus startups: Do a better job promoting your product to national tech media.”

Unfortunately, I know this to be true. From my first-hand experience doing PR with startups in both Silicon Valley and the Midwest, I can tell you that it’s just not a priority for startups here. In fact, I’ve written about it previously (5 ways PR can help startups toot their own horns).

I don’t know if it’s the Midwest in us, but we need to do a better job of promoting ourselves. And according to Biggs, it’s not unique to Columbus. It happens in other smaller markets, too.

“I haven’t heard from any startups in Columbus for a few years now,” said Biggs, past East Coast editor and still a freelance editor for San Francisco-based TechCrunch. “The concern for me is to see if there are startups here.”

Are there startups here? Yes, of course. So, it’s frustrating to see those that deserve to be in the national media spotlight struggling with how to get there.

The piece goes on to say, “Biggs told me he sees a repeating pattern in smaller markets – startups selling themselves short on publicity.” In Silicon Valley, PR is factored in early—and often—when launching a product or service.

Why the difference? Maybe the VC funding is lacking here in the Midwest to pay for services like public relations. But, it needn’t be expensive. There are options, such as doing it yourself or hiring a consultant or freelancer to help you with some of the work.

Biggs continued, ‘Everybody passes the buck when it comes to getting the word out about the product,’ he said. ‘If they’re not actively looking at all venues and avenues, they’re doing themselves a disservice.’”

But, startups may not know how to find opportunities, or how to capitalize on them. They may not be thinking “big” enough. I find this common when I talk with startups here. They want to be covered by local media, but there are so many more opportunities beyond that to earn publicity. When you walk into a Silicon Valley startup, you’d never hear the founder say, “I just want to be in the local paper.”

This is where a PR pro comes into play. A consultant or freelancer can help you determine the best avenues to pursue and how to approach them. He or she can help ensure you’re not missing out on opportunities for publicity.

It’s also true that most startups are too busy to do their PR. However, that’s, it’s no excuse for not considering the role PR plays as part of an effective marketing strategy. Let’s keep in mind that PR does the following:

  • Helps build buzz before you launch
  • Helps build awareness
  • Helps educate your potential buyers about the product—and their need for it
  • Helps you tell your stories through credible editorial coverage (versus ads, which are you talking about you)

And so much more.

There’s no doubt that PR should be an integral piece of your marketing strategy. No other element can deliver the same value for your marketing dollar. If you’re an entrepreneur in a smaller market like Columbus, it’s up to you to determine a way to prioritize PR to help you get the word out about your startup. And maybe, if you do it right, you’ll even land in TechCrunch.


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