A Q&A with Whitney Slade, Founder of Local PR Firm, Slade Strategies

Headshot of Whitney Slade in front of a picture of the City of Boise
How does PR differ from marketing? What is its purpose?

While there is some overlap between PR and marketing there are a few main differences. PR professionals don’t pay to promote a positive conversation about their client or organization; they influence for it and earn it. This is where the terms “earned” and “paid” media come from. PR is “earned” and advertising is “paid.” Earning trust requires a two-way communication. The purpose of PR is to strengthen an organization’s reputation, image, and influence.

When should a startup start thinking about PR? How much should it expect to budget for PR?

Start thinking about it now! The consumer wants to engage with brands on a whole new level now. They will get behind you, support you and trust you, if you know how to tell your story. The main thing is that you find a contractor (or PR team) who listens to you and builds a strategy aligned with your pace and your budget. Scale your PR program as you scale your business. Depending on where you are in your process, you will may need help with messaging, or you may be ready for a national media campaign. Are you looking for one-on-one meetings or a launch party? Stay future focused and grow your PR efforts as your business grows.

At what points should a startup use one-off PR services, contracted PR services, and on-staff PR?

Contracting the right help throughout any stage of your business can be a good thing. But having some help in the early stages can also ensure that you start off on the right path. Professionals can help you with messaging and identify what you need to clearly and successfully tell your story. This could include copy for your website, a review of your pitch deck, and crafting an FAQ. Ideally, this team also knows how to do press releases and move you into your next phase of PR. As you become more established, you may decide it’s time to look at a monthly retainer with a contractor.

There are benefits to both contractors and staff, but in the beginning, you want connectors and relationship builders more than anything. I wouldn’t recommend rushing into having a PR professional on staff, you have plenty of other expenses to think about. When you hire the right team, you will see the results.

How important is the PR staff’s location? For example, should Idaho startups make a point of having in-state PR representation, Silicon Valley or New York PR representation, or something else?

When you are just starting out, local press can be very effective and having those local contacts will get the results you need. Don’t forget, media are working hybrid and remote models too, everyone is just an email away. And, if you choose the right team to work with, they will engage the targeted media regardless of location.

How should a startup develop a relationship with the media? Which media should the startup focus on?

I wouldn’t recommend jumping into media relations on your own. Depending on the level of press you want to pitch, you may only have one opportunity to grab their attention. First impressions are key and you want to put your best foot forward when you contact them. I worked with a fashion magazine for two years before they finally covered my consumer tech client, but I was patient. 

You need to respect their time. The story you want them to tell should be newsworthy and relevant. For example, an important launch or announcement with a customer or partner. A spam approach with nontargeted pitches to media doesn’t work. Do your research and understand what each reporter covers, if they have covered your competitors and if they have biases. Developing relationships with the media is just that—a two-way relationship. This sort of relationship building takes time. When you craft the right story for them, they will cover it.

What are examples of things that should and should not (as in, “don’t bother”) be publicized?

More than you think! Imagine how many pitches journalists receive every day. Don’t waste their time. A product launch or signed partnership will get more traction. Find the human element to the story and you will get their attention. Figure out how you can tie your brand into a breaking news story or technological trend. Ask yourself why is my story relevant?

What should a startup do about bad news? Publicize it or hide it?

Things happen, we are human. At Slade Strategies, our approach is rooted in authenticity and trust. Growing brand awareness starts with owning your story, even if it means dealing with conflict and adversity. Building a comprehensive PR strategy from the start helps you identify your values as a business and should encompass all the ways you show up in the world, including how you directly address issues when they arise.

What’s the biggest mistake you see startups making with PR?

Believing PR is reactionary rather than adopting a sustainable strategy. And attitude. I get it, you are super excited about your idea and its fresher than sliced bread. Be humble. That attitude is not going to work with journalists.

What are some examples of Idaho startups that do a good job with PR?

There is a ton of innovation and talent in Boise. I get excited about businesses making commitments to social impact and corporate social responsibly. These companies that are giving back to their community and contributing to causes they care about. They know how to share their story and the consumer is responding positively to their brand.

What role should Idaho startup companies play in philanthropy? How should they choose a beneficiary and what should they look into providing?

Oh, wow, this is one of my favorite topics! Our past experiences have shaped who we are as people and entrepreneurs. From losing a loved one to cancer to having a passion for early learning, your interests can help to start this process of finding the direction for your philanthropic focus.

Written by Sharon Fisher, a digital nomad who writes about entrepreneurship.

This article was created as a collaboration between Boise Entrepreneur Week, Built in Idaho and Trailhead