Big PR Splashes: When Do They Make Sense?

by Charle Alfy

A big PR splash never hurts, right? It serves as good advertising, strong brand reinforcement, a good way to attract new customers and a strong enticement for good employees to join the company. It’s even better when there’s no hefty price tag attached if it is done through competitions like TechCrunch or prestigious press coverage. Plus, let’s face it; it’s a good feeling to see your own baby celebrated publicly!

Well, that’s not always true. The joys of an early celebration could lead to a long-term misery in two cases; if it was used at the time of the product launch instead of the marketing launch, or if the company is better off using a Judo Strategy in the face of strong incumbent competition.


Eric Ries draws that distinction between product launch and marketing launch in his interview with mixergy.com in May 2009. An early product launch is important to get the feedback of an early group of customers to inform the entrepreneur about how the product is perceived. The feedback shouldn’t replace the vision, but allows for making adjustments that could be needed and prevents from living in the “reality field distortion”. That product launch, however, should be done on a small scale with a limited group of customers. The marketing launch, which opens the product up to the actual target market and the one that could possibly be accompanied by a big PR splash, should be kept after those adjustments are made and the business model is clearer. This isolates the reputation of the company from any misfortunes of a mediocre product or a different model and creates that needed chasm between early adopters and target customers. This is what the founders of Aardvark did when they delayed the public launch till SXSW and what Drew Houston did when he kept the market launch of DropBox till TechCrunch50 but they both have been soliciting user feedback from before.


The next question now comes in: At the time of the market launch, should the founders use a big PR splash? David Yoffie and Mary Kwak have proposed an alternate theory to the intuitive reasons presented in the beginning of the blog in their book on Judo Strategy. New companies should shy away from such a splash if they’re competing with a strong incumbent that is entrenched in the market. Their idea is not to oppose strength with strength. Attracting too much attention could provoke competition and cause you to go head to head with a strong competitor when you haven’t developed the necessary armor yet. In those situations, it is better to play alongside competitors and not moon them, so a big PR splash could lead to a premature attack. Whether that was the reason Sunil Nagaraj has avoided a flashy launch for Triangulate is unclear, but it quite possibly helped him position it as a possible future enabler for eHarmony or Match.com instead of a direct competitor.
  

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