Last week I had the privilege of addressing MIT’s summer cohort of startups in their Delta V accelerator program. The topic of the talk was Startup PR. These were incredibly smart people and so I knew I needed to bring my A game.
So naturally I talked about Schitt’s Creek.
If you haven’t seen Schitt’s Creek, it is a Canadian sitcom about an uber rich family that loses it all and has to move into a motel in a small town called Schitt’s Creek. From their all sorts of hijinks and heartwarming growth ensues.
What is most memorable about the show is its incredibly original aesthetic. The language, the clothes, the scenery. When you watch all of those elements combined, you know you’re watching Schitt’s Creek. There is simply no other show quite like it.
What Can Startups Learn?
After I finished the series finale, I watched an interview with Dan Levy who created the show with his dad, Eugene (for anyone of a certain age he is perhaps most memorable for his iconic role as Jim’s dad in American Pie). In the interview, Dan said when they started writing the show, he just wanted to get started with dialogue and plot. But his dad wouldn’t let him. He made them work for weeks on back stories and ensured they vividly brought to life the world their characters would inhabit. Much of this work probably never appeared on camera but it is what created such a rich narrative.
Startups could learn a lot from this approach. Many times new companies are eager to talk about themselves without any broader context. This is because many founders are product-out. They are the center of their universe. Instead, companies need to take a market-in approach. Only when you know everything going on with your markets and your competitors can you actually know what are your differentiators – and not just the differentiators that you want but ones that actually create a moat around you.
If you know what is happening in your market, you’re also able to understand trends and know where the puck will be heading in the next five years. Industry trend + actual differentiators = genuine thought leadership that drives conversation and trends.
Not only will this perspective help you impress potential prospects but it will also help you get the coverage you wanted all along. Whether talking about public relations or media relations, relationships is the common word. Relationships are not transactional. They must be mutually beneficial. You are getting value if your company is talked about in a publication. What value are you providing the reporter? Reporters are busy. Every day they’re asked to do more. If you’re able to help them connect the dots within your industry that could be valuable. That could be the sort of thing that helps you and your company standout.
Telling Your Story Over and Over
It is tempting to want to rush. But you can’t build a mansion on top of a foundation of sand. It is why I am such a proponent of drumbeat marketing. By starting with messaging and developing unique points of view and then consistently hammering those points through your owned channels, you can steadily build a strong foundation.
Part of my belief in that is that there is no silver bullet. No one article makes a company. What makes a company is the accumulation of continued momentum over a period of time when you’re telling a consistent and compelling story.
Compelling means it works. You only know what messaging works if you test it. Use your owned channels to test and refine your messaging. Too many companies skip right to paid channels. Why pay money for an unvalidated message?
That’s why small and incremental is better than swinging for the fences.
Because if you’re erratic and you swing big and hit, what happens? Do you really want to be in Forbes when you have 20 Twitter followers and a blog from last February? You want to be prepared for when your moment in the spotlight happens.
Obsess over the backstory and, like Schitt’s Creek, when your moment comes there will be no one else out there quite like you.