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“Web 2.0” Startups & PR Today September 1, 2006

Posted by The PR Cassandra in Posts.
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In a conversation today, the talk turned to the PR success of eBay, Google and Craig’s List, as models for a new web company starting today.  This led me thinking about comparing an online startup today to those who launched over 10 years ago.  Building a business and a brand is not magic, and entails a lot of hard work and dedication by many, many people over a period of some years.

Just because one considers oneself a “Web 2.0” company, doesn’t mean private jets and islands are around the corner.  (Nor did adding a dot com after one’s name ensure success in our infamous dot com boom and bust era – for some reason, people threw out the essentials of what makes a successful business during those heady times – namely, the need to make profits!)

It reminds me of the phenomenon in the film industry, when an actor becomes hailed as “an overnight success.”  Just as with tech companies, this is a wonderful myth. 

Dig a bit deeper into  the history of “overnight successes” whether actors or companies, and one is sure to find many years of hard work and exceptional dedication.

The “Web 2.0” companies we now see as successful, have histories that are not always apparent.  Great PR is done by an invisible hand.  In other words, while insiders know what it took to get to a desired level of visibility, credibility and users, it often looks like “instant success” on the outside. 

However, just as with new web startups, PR today is tracking the changes in the tech marketplace as a whole. 

Company blogs, tech camps, search engine optimization, podcasts and one’s web site(s) are now important PR tools, along with leveraging high-profile events and partners, building thought leadership recognition and developing champions among industry influencers and stakeholders. 

And yet, users – and media/bloggers’ – expectations in 2006 are far higher than when Google, eBay and Craig’s List started some ten years ago. (I think that much of this due to loss of faith in so many things in life – not just the dot com bust, but also the lack of integrity exhibited in too many places that as young people we are taught to revere and trust.)

What I found interesting about the conversation today, is that it hadn’t changed from similar ones I’ve been in since I began in PR.  Forexample, people seem to think that “media access” is some magical thing.  The truth is that anyone can call anyone in the media or send them an email.  Thus, simply having access to the media is not the problem for most companies.  It’s what is communicated and how it is communicated that makes all the difference. 

For a new web company launching today, the media and user climate is skeptical (i.e. tends not to trust easily), jaded, doesn’t want a sales pitch, expects the PR people to be market and technology savvy, wants community input/controls (vs. from the company) and expects an efficient, yet personal, user experience to be delivered and at low cost. 

In all of this expectation and skepticism, however, is an idealism – and if the founders have that and the company really exhibits it – than that is refreshing to us all.

A new web startup doesn’t have to be perfect or have all the answers when it launches – that would not be realistic or credible.  It does need to widen its horizons beyond a few insiders or the founding team.

For example, I believe that allowing select media, bloggers, and other influential market experts, along with an early adopter user group, to provide feedback and support in the early stages of a startup’s development can be invaluable for future PR and market success. 

All startups believe in what they are doing.  The successful ones also listen to what those outside of the company have to say (of course, they don’t always have to take it!).

I have rarely seen a company fail due to technology.  For tech or web startups who desire success — it is the users’ experience, along with the PR and marketing that makes or breaks – for it is great  PR and marketing, along with great technology, that draws users to a site and brings them back.