Creating a start-up is not an easy business. When we look at Apple, Google we see amazing and successful companies, but most of us don't see the hard work the entrepreneurs but into it. We also don't remember amazing old websites we used to use, like Yahoo, etc. One of the most significant decisions for a start-up is when to start investing money in public relation and Marketing. I invite you, to find the answer to this question with me.
The first question is why a start-up do need to waste money on public relations? And, is Public Relations a waste of money for start-ups.
PR for Start-ups : YES / NO
There are many reasons for a startup to start looking for public relations, and I would divide those reasons into four categories.
- Control your Start-Up image
- You are recruiting
- You want to grow up your users
- You want people to know about your hard work
Controlling Your Start-Up image with PR
Let's say that generally, entrepreneurs want to do good in the world. They don't just want to make money; they want to create valuable products that will help other people. If those products work, then they will start seeing the money.
But the world in a very unpredictable place to live in, we never know what will come tomorrow. Let's say we can't even be sure about the weather. So sometimes our society can get into bad things, Not on purpose of course, but still, be involved in things we don't want to be involved in.
Let's take Facebook as an example of this. We all know Facebook the social media network that bought almost every other social media company in the market. We can ask, why does Facebook need public relations? Why do they need any marketing at all? I mean, it is not like there is someone on earth, that didn't know the company, it is basic.
So again, why does Facebook need Public relation? Maybe you don't know that, but actually, Facebook also works with local public relation agency working for them with the local press. So not only the company have a CMO, an intern public relation manager, and a huge marketing team, they also have a local PR agency in other countries.
Facebook in a hundred billions dollar company, that mean the guys there are not stupid. Let's say they know how to do this right. So if they know how to manage a company, they know how to invest the company money smartly.
The reason Facebook works with local PR agency in other countries is simple: they want to control their image. They want to be able to make people believe; Facebook is the best company in the word. They want to be able to take care of and deal with crises quickly. Facebook doesn't want any small issue to become something international and big. That is why they use local PR services.
Every PR agency manages a few clients. Let's say a tech journalist has some questions regarding one of the agency clients. It can be a corporate a start-up whatever. This journalist, feel or think that there is something wrong with the start-up, and he has some questions.
As a local PR agency, you have more tools to get him to talk him out of it. You can say you will stop working with him. You know him better so maybe he will listen. You have more leverage than any PR manager living 5000 kilometers from the journalist, and sometimes speaking a different language.
So local PR agencies have the connections and the tools to protect your company from local press attack. That is a huge advantage of working with local PR in every country you have offices. That will allow you to take care of the local and regional crisis, without involving the entire marketing team of the company. That way, you will be able to save a clean image of your company.
Public Relation for Start-up recruitment
In our days, the salary is not enough to brink high tech talent to your company. There are tens of thousands of companies looking for what you need. They want great people, with a great mind that will be able to take their software a step ahead. That what they want, and of course also what you want. Every company wants to bring amazing talents to work. The question is, how to change the equation, how to make talents come to your start-up.
I am sure we can write a book about the importance of Public Relations in your recruitment efforts. PR is an essential part of successful recruitment campaigns. You have a lot of competitors out there, and minimal potential future employees. Recruitment for start-ups is very hard, both for the headhunters and the HRs.
I heard people saying; "I don't need recruitment PR, every software engineers know that we are the best in our domain." Yeah, maybe, let's say you are right. A few months later, the HR didn't understand why no open sent a CV for all the to the jobs they recruit. Marketing and public relation are not performance marketing, and you don't see all the result today.
I will give an example from the finance world. Is a Facebook lead campaign is "Day Trading," Public Relation is "a long-term investment."
When we do a Facebook lead campaign, we can see after a few hours if our campaign was successful. We have access to all the details, how much people saw out ads, how much lead did we get and how much did we pay for each.
However, it is almost impossible to measure the success of a public relation move after a few hours or a few days. It is a long-term investing strategy; you start now to get what you need in a few months.
The first good impact of Public relation for start-ups will be proud. When your employee sees an article about their place of work in TechCrunch, they will be proud. They will share it will all their friends and family wish will be very impressed and supportive.
Think about a Mom showing a high tech article about her to her children. How much love and excitement will she get from her kids, husband, and friends? A lot. These moves will contribute to the employees' sense of satisfaction, which will make them more loyal to the company. Because they will feel that their work has a real impact, people are talking about it.
That is the first plus of public relations recruitment, your employees being more happy to work for you and more loyal.
The second one is: More people want to work for you.
People want to work in Cool places. What is a cool place? A company you heard of in the journal, internet, television. One of the PR roles is to create the right narrative for you start-ups. With the HR manager of your start-up, the PR person will think and organize all the company's messages. Then the PR will present the narrative to all kind of journalist, to create different items around the start-up.
Those items can be around a lots of subjects; the hard work is to find interesting people and process in the company. Maybe you have a VP in your start-up who used to be a DJ. You always can find crazy stories, just open your eyes and put attention to what is going on in your start-up.
When other start-ups employees will see your company name in tech news websites on a weekly basis, they will start looking after you. And your HR work will only be to filter them and stay with the best one.
So HR PR will help you raise your motivation to work for you, and will make other startup employees jealous.
Start-up PR for Growing Up user Database
I wouldn't see PR as your primary focus if you want to grow up your users. As I said before, public relation is not performance; it is a long-term investment, like SEO. You want to grow up your business organically and not boost it up one time. So we will see, when is it the right decision for a start-up to use Public Relations services for growing up user database.
Public relations can be a creative way for organic growth. From my experience, for most companies don't see a direct increase from public relations. BUT it depends on our audience, and I will explain why.
Start-ups can't use public relation for product lunch only, cause the agency needs to do some pre-work. Most PR agencies will help the start-up get in contact will the relevant reporter, so they can meet and know each other.
After the agency did all the pre-work, now they will be able to make articles that will impact your business. But remember, you will have to pay at least for one month without getting direct results. You can be sure that by investing in money in a performance campaign, instead of creating a PR strategy for your start-up, you could have growth your user database.
As a start-up entrepreneur, you have to do your consideration. If at this moment you want to people know you, and know your work. Or you prefer to put your money in code or performance campaigns.
We all know how competitive is the start-up world. I call it the run to the exit. Every entrepreneur has high ambitions, we all want to be the best at what we do. We have no problem to invest as much time needed, but we all want people to know about our work. Sometimes PR can be great for the ego.
I don't recommend you to use public relations services, only for your ego, but let's say I know people who do that, and they are pleased with this.
Public relations can be a great source of inspiration, dialog, and motivation to start-up owner. That allows you to make your work public and get real feedback about it. In articles, you can delete bad comments, so it makes you learn all kinds of point of view.
The ego part can also connect to the recruiting public relations part. Media exposure can cheer up your team, and make them proud of the company they work in. But before putting media attention to your employee, it is better to check with them and explain to them the goals of it. Many employees don't like getting exposed to the media, so as HRs or CEOs, you have to check and ask before doing that.
Smart People talking about start-up and public relations
I let the last part of this article for others opinions. So let's check out what other people think about public relations for start-ups.
Denis Klimentov - Memorandum Capital
In short, PR deﬁnitely helps to raise funds for a startup, and press exposure, as a part of public relations, certainly does help, as long as its done right. In business nowadays, no one will even want to do business with a company that has zero brand recognition or zero reputation: it is considered a business risk.
After all, if no one has heard about a new undertaking, why would they support it, including ﬁnancially? There is an exception, though: it has to be a good, viable startup, not a scam. If there is a “good story” (idea, business model, product, service, etc) – then all it takes is a good story teller to make it all work!
Coming from VC world, armed by the knowledge of economic fundamentals, and being a career PR professional I can tell you that I would not take just ANY startup that oﬀers me money to promote it. In fact, I will use a stringent criteria to evaluate it.
As such, I would ensure that the good money is not being thrown after bad. We, at Memorandum Capital have a special know-how, as it is our core business, to ﬁnd great startups (based on blockchain) and ﬁnd investors for them.
So, in order to know whether a startup is worth any eﬀort to promote it, we would have to answer several questions, such as:
Is there a unique value proposition? Does it create something new?
Has this been done before? If not, why?
Does it oﬀer something MUCH cheaper than existing products /services.
Does the market want it?
There are more “test” questions we pursue, but I wont bore you with those. The information we uncover just by answering the questions above could be used to build a GREAT PR campaign that will get almost any startup more funds than it ever needed!
A PR eﬀort, if any good, attracts attention, tells the world the best story possible about your venture. Information IS power, and in case of a startup, it is the power to attract attention, tell the world about the interesting and “teaching” aspects about a particular startup, use information to its advantage.
Example: you’re a poor startup raising money and no one has heard of it, VS. the same poor startup, except, people know how its business model works, what beneﬁts brings and how it will help to SAVE the world. Which one has a better chance of raising funds? Remember two core principles:
PR drives sales (its like “free” advertising).
PR may drive more funding (hey, its a startup, it may need more funds to grow)
How does a good PR agency boost a startup’s funding?
Carefully crafted messages and information:
1. Crisp 1P and white paper, solid model
2. Deck of vivid slides, targeted to audience
3. Media events and placements
Selective targeting: who could be interested in funding a venture of this proﬁle?
Proactive information pitches to these audiences
How to approach these audiences? Finding appropriate approaches and platforms.
Personal interaction with inﬂuencers.
One other important aspect of the PR equation with startups is that reputation nowadays is a very concrete intangible asset. In fact, a variety of formulas exist, that help number crunchers, accountants estimate and account for dollar value of reputation, press coverage and PR at large.
MEGHAN SOMERS - The Agency
The truth is that you can do PR yourself. Many startups do their own PR – but can achieve mixed results. Sometimes they knock it out of the park, and sometimes the initiatives fall flat. At some point you will have to decide what your time is worth, and what you should be spending it on. Should you be writing a blog post and doing social media, or should you be hustling for sales and building your customer base? Whatever answer you choose is correct. But it’s important to know that at some point, your answer will be “getting the sale/running the business,” and that’s where an agency comes in.
Michael Becce - MRB Public Relations
Deciding to work with a public relations firm has less to do with a company’s size, offerings, and financial backing and more to do with the infrastructure the business has in place. Some of our most successful campaigns were done for companies with limited financial resources (some without a marketing person/team). Successes are determined by record breaking funding amounts, major acquisitions, and companies that have grown into industry leaders. Just hiring a firm certainly won’t just make these things happen, there needs to be company resources in place. If you are lacking in any of the following, your chances to succeed are greatly reduced. If you can check all the boxes, you should be putting yourself out there.
Have experts (at least one) that can speak to media about industry trends is very valuable. The media loves speaking to new resources that know their stuff. Our firm routinely gets contacted by media asking for comments about recent news. Even if these experts don’t have experience speaking or doing interviews, most PR firms can provide media training and practice that gets them capable quickly. Female and minority experts are particularly sought after, so that would be another advantage.
Customers are your best indication of whether a PR campaign will work for your business. If you selling with little to no outreach, this is a great indication that you are filling a need. People can’t buy what they don’t know about. The more people who are exposed to your offering will likely increase sales.
Customer feedback will be critical in helping to formulate your messaging and position the company or product properly. They will also give you feedback on what needs to be changed, improved, or highlighted. Make sure you use their feedback to explain the benefits of what you offer. Remember, nobody cares about your company or product, only the benefits you provide them.
A point of contact
PR firms will need a clear point of contact to go to.. This is typically a marketing director, VP of marketing or CMO at larger companies. This contact needs to ensure that the PR firm knows everything they need to know about the company and to know everything the PR firm is doing for the company.
Your spokespeople need to commit to the process. Do interviews when requested. Provide comments when needed. Be open to breakfast, lunch, dinner or coffee with media while traveling. If you make speaking to media and analysts a priority, you will get more exposure than you thought possible.
Flow of information
In order to keep a consistent flow of media exposure, you’ll need enough material to build a plan around. Most companies have more material than they realize (collateral, blogs, whitepapers, case studies, presentations, etc.) and all be revised and repurposed to produce valuable content. A good PR firm will never ask for what to do next, they’ll pull what they need and guide you.
If your business has something to add to the conversation, you need to get PR started. As a marketing tool, it will get you the most visibility for the fewest dollars. It will also help boost your search engine results, create partnership opportunities, start funding conversations, boost company morale, and bring talent in the door.
Inside marketing reps without media relationships have limited success. People that don’t understand how to work with the media (a skill even many PR firms lack) can do more harm than good. Make sure when you look at firms they have experience in the sector you do business in, specifically. The best indication that they can perform is based on past results. Ask to see proof that they deliver articles. Not just one or two. If they know what they are doing, they should be able to produce hundreds for a single client.
Helen Atkinson - PR Consultant and Recovering Journalist
Startups have a bad habit of thinking they need a PR person or service as soon as they get up and running, or even into the black. But I will not take someone on until one magical thing happens -- they have a customer who is willing to go on the record about what the startup's product did for them.
No editor gives a damn that you opened an office, or hired someone (unless they're famous, maybe), or even that you signed a customer (unless it's Walmart or Amazon). Editors want to tell their readersgreat stories that are about someone like them, who had a problem and used the startup's product to solve it.
Why should you hire a PR service? Despite what PR agencies say, it is not magic or rocket science. You simply need someone who can mine your company for stories, understanding and insights, then pitch those to individual editors or reporters who are actually interested in what you have to say. This is not your core skillset, and it takes time, so it makes sense to hire an experienced professional to do it.
These days, since content is king, it helps if some high-quality writing is included, too.Most startups should get by for several years with a single PR consultant, charging $10,000 a month or less. PR agencies try to dazzle prospective customers by promising access to multiple staffers, but the truth often is that the agency person pitching for your business will have nothing to do with the day-to-day management of your account. They're busy pitching to other prospects, leaving the real work to be done by clueless intern-level minions who have no real understanding of what you do, why it's different, and why any journalist should give a darn. I lived this every day during my 14 years as a business journalist -- receiving annoying calls from PR agency cannon fodder who literally had no idea what I wrote about or what their client did. The PR representatives who had even a baseline understanding of both stood head and shoulders above the rest, and were far more successful in getting my attention (and column inches).
Honestly, it's not hard to be good at PR. But it takes time, effort, knowledge and focus -- that's why you pay someone to do it. Once you're ready!