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How to Generate PR for a Startup at Conferences

Maksym Babych
Updated Feb 03, 2022

Public relations is an important part of successfully launching a startup. How can you spread the word at business conferences?

From the point of view of marketing, any tech conference is a place where the interests of all attendees coincide to a maximum. That is why startup conferences allow one to expand the audience reach, stimulate interest in goods and services, and ensure a stronger connection between supply and demand. In the long term, an effective conference can lead to an increase in sales and the gaining of useful contacts. Attendance at these events provides an opportunity to conduct a marketing analysis and evaluate the current trends among buyers. Conferences such as the Web Summit, Collision, or Startup Grind can help establish PR for startups and make them visible on the market.

How startup conferences are arranged and why you need them for startup PR

All startup conferences are arranged about the same. At some point, clever organizers realized that it was boring to just make IT-conferences where the same big brands would talk about their new products. It’s a lot more fun to ask startups to join the party with their innovative ideas and pitch decks. Additionally, it is more efficient for gathering people. Meanwhile, mature companies will buy sponsorship packages and exhibit booths.

That is why, Web Summit (70 000 participants), Collision (30 000 participants) and many others are large IT-conferences with a hint of innovations.

But that’s organizers’ desire to make money off the publicity’s interest in startups is what allows every young company to obtain PR benefits on modest financial terms. No wonder IT conferences offer startups cheap tickets, booths, plenty of discounts from partners, and excellent opportunities for networking and attracting investors.

How conferences influence public relations for startups

If you have never been to these conferences before, these events will certainly expand your consciousness. You will understand that the IT world is vast and limitless with plenty of opportunities waiting for you.

You will get a chance to do networking. Large startup conferences are the only events where you can meet the founders of YC, Andreessen Horowitz, CEOs and CTOs of the large corporations, as well as high-powered journalists and bloggers.

You will receive a surefire mark of quality. If you were selected for Collision or another tech conference, your idea is interesting, and you, as a founder, will be worth talking to. Investors and journalists are very forthcoming in communicating with startups that have already been filtered out by someone else. You can refer to your participation in conferences, and this will increase your chances to meet with investors outside of conferences.

Conditions under which conferences will not help a tech startup

If you just wait around at the Alpha program at the Web Summit or Grind at the Startup Grind, YC will not come to your exhibit booth. Techcrunch will not write about you, and Andreessen Horowitz will not invite you to come over. You will simply be among the other startups in the crowd, going from one stage to another.

Thus, if your company wasn’t selected for the pitch on the main stage, your presentation will be seen only by dozens of other startups waiting in line.

In short, startup conferences, like any other B2B events, require preparation. It is a place where everything is possible. Yes, there are investors and journalists walking somewhere nearby. But you need to be more active and make appointments with them on your own.

How to prepare for a startup conference

A PR strategy plan should be thought out in advance. Before you decide to apply for a tech conference, you need to define your target audience, business goals, and the ways to achieve them. Let’s start with the list of conference participants.

Who is the Audience?

Tech conferences are usually attended by several groups of people. They have different purposes and can be divided as follows:

  • Local students. These are usually young people who have individual ID badges.

  • Entrepreneurs, startups, and companies. These people are interested in products but attend conferences as guests to see the latest trends.

  • Entrepreneurs, startups, and companies that advertise their products

  • Investors

  • Accelerators

  • Journalists and bloggers

List of upcoming top tech conferences worldwide

If you have already decided to attend a tech conference, it’s the right time to think about where to go. The best advice here is to apply everywhere possible and choose the best option later. This is an excellent chance to practice pitching and understand how to get media coverage for your business. We have made a list of the best upcoming events you can apply for:

  • The USA:
  1. SaaStr, March 10-12, San Francisco, CA
  2. TechCrunch Disrupt, September 14-16, San Francisco, CA
  3. Launch Scale 2020, TBA, San Francisco, CA
  4. Launch Angel Summit, July 13-16, Napa Valley, CA
  5. Hardwarecon 2020, April 16, Mountain View, CA
  • Canada:
  1. StartupFest, July 15-17, Montreal
  2. Collision, June 22-25, Toronto
  • Europe:
  1. London Tech Week 2020, June 8-12, London, UK
  2. Hello Tomorrow – Deep Tech Week, March 10-13, Paris, France
  3. Slush, November 19-20, Helsinki, Finland
  4. EU-Startups Summit, May 28-29, Barcelona, Spain
  5. START Summit 2020, March 19-20, St. Gallen, Switzerland
  6. Startup Summit, October, Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Latin America:
  1. SaaStock, May 11-13, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Asia:
  1. Rise, March 2021, Hong Kong
  2. Slush Shanghai, TBA, Shanghai, China

How to prepare for applying

Now, it is time to apply to tech conferences. Since every event has its own requirements, you need to prepare well and in advance. The larger the conference, the more rigid the formal selection process. As an example, we will describe the process of applying for WebSummit.

First, tech startup companies should fill out a questionnaire. Apart from the contact information, you will need to provide a 7-word startup description and basic information about the team, financing, and industry. If all goes well, a scout will write to you and offer a call.

After you go through the call procedure, you will be able to apply for a pitch contest, acceleration, communication with mentors, and other useful events. But before that, you will need to:

  • Provide a link to your LinkedIn profile

  • Prepare a pitch deck

  • Give a link to your web or mobile application

  • Answer standard questions, like:

  1. Why should your startup be part of our conference?

  2. Describe your startup in a tweet style.

  3. What is your team experience?

  4. Who are your competitors?

  5. What channel(s) or tool(s) do you use to increase customer growth?

  6. Why is now the right time for your product/service to hit your specific market?

  7. Describe your company’s current traction.

  • Provide a 1-minute video where you describe your project. But don’t rush to hire an expensive videographer. It is enough to make a video with the help of a good smartphone camera.

How to prepare for the interview 

If you pass an initial test, it means the conference organizers understand that you mean business and you have an interesting product. Therefore, scouts will call you. A conversation usually lasts for about 15-20 minutes. Don’t be afraid of this procedure. Conference scouts are not business sharks, and their main purpose is to select the best startups and sell you tickets. It means that they are on your side, and it won’t be easy to disappoint them.

Scouts usually act according to the script. They ask you about your product, team, MVP readiness, and investments. Formally, these are the same questions any VC is likely to ask you, but scouts are simply interested in whether you have prepared answers to these questions beforehand.

After the interview, the scout refers prospective applications to an organizing committee for further discussions. In a couple of weeks, you will receive a congratulation letter with a link for purchasing group tickets at a discount (for instance, ~ €300 instead of €1000 for Web Summit).

After that, you will still have to apply for the pitch contest and upload the logo for the stand. Once you are selected for a conference like this for the first time, you’ll come out on top. 

The organizers of such events as Collision and Web Summit are very interested in success stories. Every year, they need to show that the startup newcomers are making progress and generate a higher volume of ticket sales. Therefore, if you were selected for the first conference, getting into the second one will be much easier and faster.

Startup conference networking

As I said before, startup conferences are a perfect opportunity to talk with anyone. But all meetings must be arranged in advance. Tidy up your LinkedIn profile, fill out AngelList, install the official app, and start writing to everyone you need, offering meetings during the conference. Depending on whether you reach the target audience, 20-30% of them will agree to meet.

Chats and parties

Ideally, during the daytime you will be at the meetings, only occasionally running into the most interesting reports. But don’t forget about two more opportunities to find new contacts.

Large conferences usually have very targeted chats and publics. They gather many smart people who can share their thoughts on your product and give advice. Moreover, dozens of parties are usually held around the conferences. However, remember the two golden rules of any conference party:

  • Don’t waste your time on parties that are attended by people you already know. The main purpose of these events is to meet new people.

  • If you want to talk about business, two hours will be just enough. Any longer length and it turns into a drinking party.

Polishing your PR strategy: conference tips

The main goal of your conference presentation is to impress others. To still get the desired PR while taking part in a conference, I suggest that you use the following framework:

  • Polish your pitch on each new client.

  • Track who is “NOT impressed” in your pitch and the interlocutor’s reaction.

  • Be sure to ask the one who came up at the beginning – what they are interested in or need.

  • Have a site with answers to frequently asked questions that customers can ask to quickly show answers.

  • Have a pair of laptops with different pages open to the site to show these answers quickly.

  • Do not focus on the little things; remember that you have only 5-7 minutes for each visitor. Nobody looks at how much your program is – it works as stated.

  • Finish communication on irrelevant topics.

  • Collect business cards.

  • Fix at least briefly – the name of the company and what they agreed on, or what was offered.

  • Set goals for attending the summit and follow them during it: by hours, by schedule, by route.

  • Make a SWOT analysis based on the results of the summit – what you saw, heard, who you addressed, what was the interest, etc.

  • Make all contacts and business cards in CRM. Start chatting.

Being great PR tools, tech startup conferences are an essential, but simple way to advertise your startup. Not only do they increase the recognizability of your company, but they also give you a chance to do networking. It’s the best option to receive feedback that you won’t get by any other means. As a founder of a startup tech company, you will earn invaluable experience in pitching and boosting your sales and founder skills.

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Maksym Babych
I am serial entrepreneur and IT professional. I've launched SpdLoad almost 7 years ago. 2019 it's a first year, when I generated 1M USD revenue, but year even not finished yet. Besides of SpdLoad, I've founded and successufuly sold one small SaaS and run small accelerator in Ukraine. My focus is optimizing business process and product development. I am expert in Marketing, Lean Methodology, Customer Development approach.