Over the years I’ve provided PR counsel to dozens of tech companies of all sizes and stripes, from bootstrapped start-ups to publicly traded powerhouses.

Young companies often say – excitedly! – that they don’t have any direct competitors because they’re doing something truly unique. They perceive this to be a good thing for PR because they’re so new and different, when it’s often exactly the opposite:

  • No competition means there isn’t yet a clear market need for their products and services.
  • It means the media won’t have a competitive reference point from which to quickly and thoughtfully evaluate the company’s path.
  • It means the PR firm needs to spend cycles educating the media, and the company needs to perform sales gymnastics to convince prospects it’s a viable entity that won’t vanish if funding dries up.

Much better for PR is when a new company tweaks or innovates within an existing market. This typically means a more receptive media landscape as well as a less skeptical prospect base (since they’re already at least semi-familiar with the products or services being discussed).

Better yet? Entering an existing space with a healthy competitive landscape enables a range of competitive PR options:

  • In most cases it’s not credible for a fledgling company, a new “David”, to go after the undisputed Goliath in your space, but it can be great for PR to launch a competitive relations program against the biggest David in your market. But the program must be defensible, rich with examples and grounded in milestones. The goal here isn’t to be numeral uno in your space, but rather to become the clear runner-up.
  • In rare cases when the tech is highly disruptive (and your CEO happens to be a force of nature) – think Salesforce.com vs. Seibel – it makes sense to go right after the market leader. But here’s the key: Salesforce.com and Seibel both offered CRM. But the former just delivered it differently and less expensively via the hosted model versus consultant-heavy client-server. In this example the media had a clear reference point: CRM. But the innovation Marc Benioff championed was the SaaS model.

Competition is the lifeblood of public relations. It creates marketplace tension, and the press loves a good fight. It provides a jumping off point for sales and marketing, and helps others evaluate your progress against the industry and its players.

If you truly, absolutely don’t have any competitors because what you’re doing is incredibly unique and innovative, PR can still provide tremendous value. There’s just a longer ramp required to educate key audiences and convince the naysayers.

The good news is that, if your company is as great as you believe it to be, competitors will surely follow and validate your innovation and point to you as their reference point.

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