It’s no surprise that most Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns fail. For plenty of entrepreneurs, crowdfunding offers more promise than actual rewards. But in our experience, a strong public relations strategy can tip the balance.
Make no mistake: Great PR is never guaranteed. It's costly and hard to control. And in the case of crowdfunding, it also requires considerable effort at the front end with no assurances that it will pay off. As a result, our agency has made many mistakes doing PR for crowdfunding campaigns over the years. But we've learned a lot, and now things often go right.
Right now we're working on a campaign for a Montreal-based startup called Revols, which is nearing $1.5 million in funding on Kickstarter. Here's what we've learned so far.
Consumer-facing crowdfunding projects have a terrible record of unmet promises. From Coolest Cooler to Skarp Laser Razor, recent history is littered with examples of campaigns that shipped late, delivered shoddy products, and made unrealistic claims. That's made the media—including the major tech outlets—deeply (and rightly) skeptical about crowdfunding itself.
What's more, the credibility problem runs deeper than just product and supply-chain issues. Missteps can also tarnish a company's future prospects and founders' reputations.
Revols has so far sidestepped these hazards in a number of ways. For one, it secured a partnership with Onkyo, the electronics company that owns the Pioneer brand. It also participated in the HAX Accelerator for hardware startups, based in Shenzhen, China. Though totally different organizations, both HAX and Onkyo are highly respected in the sector and have real track records of success. These two facts have been critical to storytelling and building trust with media.
Before you begin PR for your campaign, figure out how you'll handle the inevitable credibility questions that stem from crowdfunding’s aggregate failures.
Can you find established partners? Are you able to get endorsements from industry experts? Is there specific accreditation you can get that will confer trust?
That's especially true in tech. In the last 15 years, much has been made of the "fragmented" media landscape. While there’s no doubt about the proliferation of sources, our experience with crowdfunding for tech products is that a small coterie of 10 to 15 U.S.-based outlets tend to drive the conversation.
Our campaign with Revols bears this out. On the day we launched, stories appeared in a number of large U.S. tech media properties. This precipitated over 100 other media placements from more than 20 countries around the world. Many of these foreign outlets made direct reference to the coverage in the major U.S. outlets.
If you're conducting PR for crowdfunded tech before a global audience, spend most of your time and budget on American tech media. Not only are you likelier to reach the bulk of visitors to platforms like Kickstarter, you’re also more likely to see significant additional coverage at international outlets that look to the elite U.S. publishers to see what’s hot.
Success or failure on crowdfunding platforms is usually determined in the first 24 to 72 hours. This means you need to be working on PR at least four to eight weeks ahead of the launch. Can it be done in less time? Sure, but give yourself the cushion.
For Revols’s campaign, we put together a roadshow that included stops in New York, San Francisco, and several other cities. The tour went on during the two weeks prior to launch.
Only after an outlet agreed to respect the publication embargo did we set up a time for a demo. Lifting the embargo to coincide with the launch of a campaign was a great way to get a number of big media pieces dropping during that critical early period. This technique created a nice crescendo of noise at the outset of the campaign. Partly as a result of that, Revols surpassed its goal of $100,000 in only seven hours. A day in, the company had hit $200,000 in crowdfunding.
A roadshow, and in particular the demos done under embargo ahead of the launch, can be a powerful centerpiece of any PR effort on behalf of a crowdfunded venture.
Media coverage can do great things for a crowdfunding campaign. I believe this holds true across many verticals. Revols has seen a return of many times its entire PR investment on individual articles that have appeared since the launch.
Still, PR is no panacea. You need to spend resources in other places. A great video is an absolute must, and there’s no substitute for founder hustling for pre-sales during the month before launching. Likewise, a well-designed digital ad campaign to bolster sales in the middle and final third of a project is crucial. Anyone trying to hit a home-run on Kickstarter or Indiegogo needs to understand that those platforms represent just one tool among many.
Jackson Wightman is the founder of Proper Propaganda, a PR agency that helps technology companies craft and spread their stories. Borjana Slipicevic is the firm’s strategy and operations lead. Together, they’ve helped clients generate global media coverage and raise millions of dollars via crowdfunding campaigns.