I had a rather picturesque childhood in a tiny farming community in western Germany. But I quickly learned that I was a bit different from the other kids in town. For instance, while all the other kids played soccer, I always preferred basketball. I also enjoyed math when I was in school. These two things made me unique - and admittedly, somewhat the “odd kid on the block.”
PR, within the world of crowdfunding marketing, enjoys a very similar reputation. Often forgotten among the much more prominent ingredients of the marketing mix (such as paid advertising, email marketing, and affiliate marketing), it is also an “odd kid on the block.” And while only about four percent of all crowdfunding pledges track back directly to media mentions, a strong PR showing can add significant credibility to your campaign and make a financial impact across the board. This can apply even after your campaign ends, and you move on to the next stage of selling your product.
Today, I would like to discuss three key ingredients for a successful crowdfunding PR campaign. If you are already past that stage and would like to hear some of my secrets, follow Funded Today on Facebook and LinkedIn. I will share some of our recipes for success in another blog post soon. But if you’re trying to decide if you should spend a significant amount of time and effort on media outreach, read right on. This is for you.
1. No, PR will (most likely) not save the day for your campaign.
I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every client who has told me something along the lines of the following: “I know we didn’t do well with advertising, so let’s do some media outreach. I bet we would go through the ceiling if we could just get into Mashable.” Let me shatter this illusion immediately. I promise, it will be the most painful portion of this blog post, and it will get a lot lighter and happier from here on out.
Almost always, the groundwork for a successful PR campaign is laid by some other type of marketing - usually by either word-of-mouth and leveraging your three F’s (family, friends, and fools), or by paid advertising. Think about it this way: If you can’t get the people who know and love you to back your campaign, why would a journalist find it relevant enough to write about it? Or, if you know you can’t make money by showing your campaign to strangers, why should it magically start working better when you show your campaign to even more strangers?
I wish my team and I had a magic wand to turn the tide on campaigns like these, but in reality, we almost never do. Journalists and bloggers embrace campaigns and ideas that have already proven their market value, but they are usually timid about projects that struggle.
If you find that you do not receive much responsiveness from your associates and you can’t generate a positive ROI on advertisements (and there is absolutely no shame in this), your next best destination is probably the drawing board to make your product more attractive to the market - and not the office of a PR specialist.
2. Uniqueness isn’t a must - but it sure helps
If you’re active in the crowdfunding world, you may be aware of some of the product categories that just won’t go away. Take wallets, or watches, or phone cases, for example. It seems like there are dozens of them on Kickstarter at any time, and this is no surprise: crowdfunding has a pretty solid track record of financing wallets, watches and phone cases.
But while having a product that is relevant to a large number of people (and often relatively easy to manufacture) can be excellent for your campaign, media outreach can be a struggle. Here’s why: Journalists - even those at publications that don’t report on breaking news - are generally obsessed with newsworthiness. They may receive 50, 100 or even 500 pitches every day, and they are always looking for the two or three leads that are most likely to be relevant to their audience. Even if your wallet has a completely novel feature or amazing design, the “check out this revolutionary wallet” pitch gets old in the journalist’s mind very quickly.
So, is selling a watch or a wallet or a phone case detrimental to your PR efforts? No, but it is essential that you have something compellingly unique about your product - and it probably shouldn’t just be some abstract feature, but something that can lead a journalist to tell a great story with your product.
Take Swiss watch manufacturer Werenbach, for example. Last month, they were one of many companies selling upscale watches on Kickstarter, but they had something unique about them: they built their watches from pieces of Russian Soyuz rockets. This allowed their backers to literally own a piece of history, as one journalist wrote in his review. This one piece of coverage tracked with nearly $12,000 in sales and likely contributed even more to the significant spike Werenbach experienced during the last week of their campaign. Werenbach’s story went above that of a “standard luxury watch,” and this is why we were able to generate good coverage for it.
In most cases, however, products that are unique and that solve common problems have the greatest chances of PR success.
3. Validation - and not direct pledges - is the most likely outcome of your PR efforts
As mentioned earlier, only one in every 25 dollars raised on Kickstarter tracks, on average, to a media placement. This is not a very encouraging statistic, and even though some campaigns raise much more from media coverage than four percent, these are usually the types of projects that could also do very well with other kinds of marketing - like paid advertisements or cross collaborations. You may be reluctant to dedicate many resources to PR during your actual crowdfunding campaign, but here is my (not entirely unbiased) take on why it can be worth it anyway.
Let me start with perhaps the biggest advantage PR has over all other types of marketing we use at Funded Today: the glory of media coverage is (usually) eternal. Your obvious short-term goal is to raise as much money as possible on Kickstarter, but the underlying reason why you are on Kickstarter is probably a different one. As the name conveniently implies, you most likely want to “kickstart” your business. This means that you want to continue selling your product and growing your business after your crowdfunding campaign clock hits zero.
While most of the hundreds of creators I’ve met do not want to surrender their business after their Kickstarter ends, a good percentage of them believes that their marketing and PR efforts only work while they crowdfund. However, media coverage has, at least occasionally, brought some of the following to our clients after the end of their campaigns: interested investors, retailers who want to sell the product, and prospective clients who are eager to learn where to buy the product post-crowdfunding.
In varying degrees, all of these benefits from media coverage can help businesses make a successful transition to the big dance of long-term retail.
The other indirect, hard-to-track benefit is third-party validation during the campaign. Imagine, for example, that you sell a product for $500 - so, rather pricy for a Kickstarter product. For simplicity, you drive traffic to your campaign page in two different ways: paid advertisements and media outreach. You will find that even many people who see your ads and really like your campaign will be reluctant to just spend $500 on your product, so they engage in a completely natural step of the buyer decision-making process: research. In modern times, this means asking Google for wisdom.
If you are mentioned in multiple credible publications and have received positive reviews, the prospective backer is likely much more inclined to buy than before. Depending on their exact action, the transaction will be recorded as either a sale from ads or from media coverage, but in the much more complex real world, both helped facilitate the sale equally.
PR, as you may have gathered, is not for every project. While it may always remain the odd kid on the block, your long-term vision may justify that you give it some love.
Pascal Friedmann joined Funded Today in 2016 and is currently the director of the Earned Media and PR division. Before Funded Today, he worked in insurance PR and paid media, and in political fundraising. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and Advertising from Weber State University.