Many startups or emerging businesses can benefit from an investment in public relations. It’s a cutthroat world out there, with all manner of new and fast-growing companies competing fiercely for media and investor attention. Most entrepreneurs realize that a well-focused PR program can help drive visibility, highlight what makes the business or its products different, and even generate business. But not all entrepreneurial businesses have the right stuff – both monetary and human resources – to commit to a PR strategy or program.
An obvious answer is to hire a PR firm, but in some cases it’s premature, both for economic reasons and because the effort needs to scale gradually, as the business does. And there is a vocal minority of founders – most notably, Mark Cuban – who feel the task is better suited to the CEO. (Don’t get us started…)
No matter how you slice it, even a modest commitment to a long-term public relations strategy can elevate visibility and accelerate the achievement of business goals. Here’s our list of what startups should know and consider about public relations.
Know what sets you apart. And learn how to articulate it well and cogently. Few companies are unique, but most have one or more differentiators. Ideally this is an attribute that translates into a user benefit, but it can also be a backstory. What problem do you solve? Why are you better? What do you have that others don’t? These are the questions that need to be answered in your story.
Show, don’t tell. For some founders, or their marketing staff, it’s instinctive to talk about why their business is innovative, different, newsworthy or important. But words only go so far; to generate real traction among traditional or digital media, descriptions need to be backed up with supporting facts, numbers, examples, and/or visuals. Key messages are only the first step.
Look beyond press releases. Press announcements still have their place in the larger public relations picture, but the days of keyword-stuffed releases to hype non-news are long gone. Any PR program that is based on press releases is probably a waste of resources. Mass-distributed or posted announcements are typically only 10 or 15 percent of the overall communications picture.
Start with low-hanging fruit. Businesses just starting to embrace public relations should be aware that there are free or low-cost services whereby journalists and bloggers promote their needs. It is sometimes a good idea to start with some basic tools like HARO or PR Newswire’s ProfNet, to determine if aspects of your business story can match up with journalist requests. It’s time and cost-efficient and at the beginning, it can be a good way to test your pitch.
Use data. Emerging businesses often have access to in-depth data that supports their overall business strategy and approach; it can be particularly interesting if it relates to a new category, an advancing technology, an underserved customer segment, or future trend. It pays to think about the data you have and its relevance to media who cover related business categories. Often it can be sliced and diced and served up to reinforce a company’s expertise or a founder’s insights.
Add value. Occasionally, new businesses are overfocused on promoting their products or services or even simply telling their story. That’s a simplistic view of how public relations works. It’s usually far better to think in terms of adding value. What insights can your founder share? What expertise is the business based upon? What trends, behavior, or development can you explain or predict? The answers may have far more media potential than mere PR announcements.
Speak for your category. Although product or service differentiation is important to a fully fleshed-out public relations strategy, an emerging business can often get more PR mileage by assuming industry expertise or leadership. If a new company is part of a growing category, it will nearly always be more interesting, and therefore more newsworthy, in the eyes of media and bloggers. We often say that one company is just a company, but two is a category.
Let others tell your story. The heart and soul of good public relations is implied third-party endorsement. A business promoting itself isn’t nearly as credible or newsworthy as the praise of a third party, usually a customer. If there are customers or partners who can help tell your story or flesh out details or substance, they should be tapped to do so. In the case of corporate clients or partners, that cooperation should be spelled out from the start of the relationship.