Startup Q&A – Revelations from Communication Queen Gini Dietrich [INTERVIEW]
Last week, we issued you a challenge: describe your product or service and have someone else repeat it back to you. How did it go? Well, if you didn’t quite achieve success no worries. I still don’t know what IBM does these days. Anyway, to help you further refine your communication messaging we enlisted the aid of Gini Dietrich, founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based marketing and communication firm.
Gini is the author of the PR and marketing blog, Spin Sucks and co-host of Inside PR, a weekly podcast about communications, social media and where they intersect. Gini was recently named the number one PR person, according to Klout and TechCrunch, so she knows heaps about communicating your business. So without further ado: Ms. Dietrich on startup communication.
1. What does communication mean for a startup?
Communication for a start-up is probably the single most important thing you can do. It’s the most cost-effective and can rally supporters and loyal customers very quickly. You first want to figure out where your prospective customers participate online and off and go there! If they’re not on Facebook, don’t create a Facebook account. If they don’t go to events, don’t participate in trade shows. But if they congregate at soccer games and on Pinterest, you’ll want to spend your time engaging them in conversation in those places. A really good example of some inexpensive, but very effective ways to communicate with prospects, is to take a look at what Warby Parker does with their customers.
2. What were the must-have pieces of content you created when you started your business?
Oh jeez. I started my business nearly eight years ago and things were drastically different back then. The one thing you can’t do without today is a website. It can’t be a static site. Today it needs to be evolving and always contain fresh content. Because of the way Google ranks new content and social shares to that content (which drives traffic), you have to get very good at producing information about what your company does on a weekly basis. But the website is not about you it’s about the customer so you have to do it in a way that is valuable and informational for the people who will buy from you.
3. What should every startup company have in its communication arsenal from the very beginning?
If you have a really good website with fresh, new content that is added once a week, you can get by without much else. You must have a vision what is the company out do to (other than make money)? Without that, all of your efforts will be for naught.
When I started Arment Dietrich, I did so coming from a big PR firm. So I thought the vision, was to build another PR firm, but one that does things differently and measures results. A few years in (I’m stubborn so I kept trying) I realized that’s not a vision at all. Our vision today is to change the perception of the PR industry. Everything we do from the work we do with clients to our blog, Spin Sucks goes toward that vision.
4. How did you write your elevator speech? How should others write theirs?
We don’t have this or a pitch speech. We drive everything to the vision when we talk about what we do.
5. What were some of your major communication failures? How did you overcome them?
Everyone will make mistakes. Everyone will have angry customers. It’s in how you handle those mistakes that either creates a crisis or doesn’t. There are two words that soften a crisis in every, single situation – no matter if it’s a Congressman tweeting photos of his unmentionables or angry customers posting on Facebook. They are: I’m sorry. When you apologize – and really mean it – the crisis is always diffused. Always.
6. What’s the single most important lesson about communication within a startup that you’d liked to impart?
It will be hard at first, but if you aren’t communicating, no one will know you exist. So keep talking to anyone who will listen to you.
7. What are the top three communication tasks a startup should complete first?
Have a content plan so you can keep your website fresh at least once per week, understand who your prospects are and how they prefer to receive the type of information you’ll distribute, and don’t be afraid to ask for things you want: Guest blog post opportunities, a column in your business journal or trade publications, a segment on your local radio or television news, a review by a big-name celebrity in your space, or produced content in exchange for something you can offer (free product or service).
8. When you started your company what was the hardest lesson to learn about communicating to customers?
Because I’m a communications professional, I didn’t face hard lessons in this realm. Where I faced the issues is in leading and growing a team, managing cash-flow, and getting paid!
9. How did you simplify your marketing message? Did you have rules? Like an outline?
Nope. Everything we do/say points back to our vision. I have it posted on my computer screen so I look at it every time I write new content or do an interview. That’s the one thing we communicate over and over again.
10. If you can impart one piece of marketing advice to a startup founder what would it be?
People (particularly investors) will tell you, you don’t need to market. And then they’ll question why you’re not growing as quickly as you anticipated. Do not listen to anyone who tells you not to market. If you’re not marketing, no one will know you exist. It used to be you had to deliver your message seven times to one person before they’d hear it (because of all the information coming at us). Now it’s upwards of 20 times. You’ll repeat yourself until you feel like people are tired of hearing from you. That’s when they’ll finally pay attention.
11. If you had to recommend one book to a startup founder what would it be? Second and Third choices?
12. Define marketing. What does it mean for a startup?
Marketing, in the truest sense is the four P’s: Product, price, promotion, and place. Of course, what we’ve talked about here is mostly around promotion, but the other P’s are just as important.