EdTech Tips Education K12

Why EdTech Startups Should Never Hire A Mainstream PR Firm

kidsraisinghands-edtechpr-top Why EdTech Startups Should Never Hire A Mainstream PR FirmReaching The Education Market Takes A Special Breed Of PR Company

Having spent years in general tech and mobile technology reporting before embarking on education in 2011, we can firmly say there’s no other industry quite like education. There are a variety of key differentiators which legacy edtech companies have grown to understand and edtech startups need to be cognizant of as they embark on their education journey.

For starters, in the edtech industry the buyer is rarely the end user. Buyers can be school district level CIOs or superintendents but the users are typically teachers and ultimately students. If your product is a STEM robotics kit for fifth graders, your product better pass muster with a fifth grader or you’ll quickly be dead in the water.

Teachers are often a big part of the edtech sales strategy and cycle, but again at the end of the day they aren’t the buyer. They may be the ones using your product for six to eight hours a day, day in and day out, but they’re not writing the actual check, but they do have impact.

The actual education buyer, the superintendents and the CIOs are often responsible for the education and well being of thousands of students. In the K-12 world they’re catering to an end user/customer that’s between the ages of 4 and 18 years old. With shrinking education budgets nationwide, these buyers are pressed for dollars and time and there’s a good chance that you actually have no idea what a day in the life of a district level decision maker is really like.

Another big factor to consider is that education has one of the longest sales cycles in the world. In many cases it can take 18 months to two years to go from first exposure to an actual district wide or school wide sale. For some edtech companies that means the product your school customers are buying today, was fresh and new two years ago.

Many startups look forward to the day that they can hand over their company to one of the biggest and most well known PR firms like Weber Shandwick, Fleishman Hilliard or Edelman. While these firms are great for many technology companies, they don’t understand the nuances in education technology.

“The education industry, more specifically, Pk-12 Education, is it’s own world with nuances only those that live within this exciting and meaningful world can truly understand. It’s not a coincidence all of us who live in this world ask “are they from the industry” whenever a company makes a new hire.  We have our own language, our own unspoken rules if you will, that are as unique as the industry we serve.  It wouldn’t make sense to ask a plumber to change a light fixture, that isn’t his industry, he has not invested the time to build the knowledge and relationships it takes to be successful, and who wants to pay for that learning curve?  When you need an electrician, you hire an electrician, not someone who says, yeah, we dabble in that area, you want to be absolutely sure they are able to do what you are hiring them to do.  You should expect more from you PR firm, you should expect them to be experts in your industry, they should drive the relationship, not the other way around.” Jacob Hanson of PR with Panache told nibletz.com

On the product side of things, outside of hardware like laptops and Chromebooks, every edtech company is different. Some have been founded by teachers while others have been founded by students, university projects and even normal people who decided to create a product that may benefit education customers.

Taking an edtech company or an edtech product to market, takes a special kind of PR company. EdTech companies need a special more focused kind of attention that bigger firms just can’t offer.

Lisa Wolfe of L. Wolfe Communications agree in regards to mainstream PR firms “…they bring in a senior, experienced person to pitch the business and then when they get the account, they turn it over to very junior team members to manage. Our “sweet spot’ is that our clients get the benefit of senior counsel (me!) every day and on every project. They have access to my nearly 30 years of education and library PR experience combined with media relations and social media expertise of other team members. In addition, we customize our approach for working with every client – there are no “cookie cutter” plans” she told nibletz.com

Wolfe began her career with a big firm and segued into PR and strategy for Microsoft’s K-12 efforts. Today her Chicago based firm represents companies ranging from ZSpace to Cricket Media.

The education PR firms that we work with regularly all know the education industry and are as comfortable talking with educators as they are students, product companies and buyers. One of the biggest factors for an education PR firm is story telling, and most of the time your story is being told to someone who’s spent their entire career critiquing, reading and writing.

“PR firms representing commercial entities selling into the education market must understand the nuances, sensitivities, and politics that surround education. The best PR successes occur when stories and people are the focus, not the product – a subtlety that can be difficult to achieve. At JHPR, we know how to spotlight the school or district while also bringing the product along into the story in an authentic, organic way without being heavy-handed. Our team specializes in writing and placing content that gets picked up in education blogs and the more traditional education publications. We have great success with targeted pitches for education and mainstream media, awards submissions, writing and distributing press releases, product launches, creating visibility at trade shows, engaging and managing social campaigns, and networking to establish long-term positive relationships among media and gatekeepers.” Jennifer Harrison of JHarrison PR said.

The edtech PR firms that we work with, eat, sleep and breathe education. They have to understand where a product fits in, who the user is, who the buyer is and what external issues may be affecting that decision. They also need to keep up with their media relationships and understand where each product fits editorially with each publication.

Take a look around at the sites you read for edtech. While I hope we are all good at what we do, the content you get here at nibletz.com is a lot different then EdSurge, EdTech Daily, EdTech Digest or any other edtech publication. A great example of that is Kati Elliot with KEH Communications. Her Baltimore based firm works with companies like CDI, Vernier, Impero, Epson and a variety of others. The staff at KEH knows that our 10 year old edtech reporter absolutely loves science and STEM, they also know that she’s 10. So when CDI announced a partnership with Little Bits and Vernier released more connected science sensors, we were at the top of their list.

“Companies who sell into education need a PR firm that knows both the publications, editors and the issues facing educators.  In order to appropriately position products and services in education, companies need someone who is entrenched in education and who can communicate clearly how these resources can solve issues and support teaching and learning.” Elliott said for this article.

Education PR firms have patience, understanding and heart that’s unparalleled in other industries. All of the PR firms we reached out to for this piece had their own horror stories of working hard to help a company that had sunk thousands of dollars into the wrong firm, blown strategy or firms that just sent out mass email campaigns on Cision. If you’re new to edtech please heed this advice and find the right firm for your product.

About the firms featured in this article.

Nibletz.com regularly works with all of the firms represented in this piece and have seen first hand how they’ve helped companies both big and small.

Kati Elliott
KEH Communications Inc. Website.

Jacob Hanson
PR With Panache, Website

Lisa Wolfe
L Wolfe Communications, Website

Jennifer Harrison
J Harrison PR  website