Dominic Pollard, director at City Road Communications, reveals the PR mistakes startups make and how to avoid them.
Actively engaging in a public relations strategy can be a daunting step for startups. Without experience or knowledge of how the PR industry works, knowing exactly what your business should be talking about and how to get that message in front of the right people is difficult.
The first thing to note is that regardless of a startup’s size or sector, PR is relevant. Essentially, PR is all about managing the reputation of your business – ensuring potential customers, investors, and employees see your name, understand what you do and are ultimately left with a positive impression of the company.
But what are the common mistakes startups are making when first dipping their proverbial toes into the world of PR?
Only talking about yourself
At City Road Communications, perhaps the most common mistake we see startups make when it comes to PR is that they only want to talk about themselves. It’s only natural that a business would approach public or media relations as an exercise for talking about oneself – in reality, this mindset will yield limited results.
Journalists are seldom interested in providing free publicity for a business to plug their own product. And in today’s newsrooms, where shrinking teams of journalists are under increasing pressure to produce stories, a startup must ensure it has something interesting and newsworthy to say.
After all, there are roughly 620,000 new companies incorporated in the UK every year; that’s around 70 per hour. To ensure you get exposure in the media, a business must stand out; and as great as a startup’s product might be, its best chance of doing so is by creating a more compelling story that relates to an audience.
Startups must focus not on what they do, but rather why they do it. What are the common problems consumers or businesses face that you’re going to solve? These problems are the thing that an audience will relate to, and offering insight and advice into such challenges and how to overcome them is a story that journalists will be interested in writing.
Flicking the switch on or off
Another common error startups make is to sporadically flick the PR switch on and off . Put another way, early stage businesses will often only engage with the media when they have something they need to promote – a product launch, new partnership or investment round, for example.
Doing PR in short bursts is ineffectual. And there are three reasons for this. Firstly, it encourages startups to merely promote themselves (that’s a no-no… see above).
Secondly, it’s a poor way to build valuable relationships in the media. Journalists will quickly realise they only ever hear from a startup when it has an internal development it wants to shout about, and they’ll likely ignore the request.
It’s far more effective to speak with journalists at relevant publications on a regular basis; to offer them interesting articles demonstrating the expertise you have in a particular market, or provide insightful commentary on breaking and developing stories. Building relationships and your media presence in this way will deliver much more PR success in the long-term.
And thirdly, short-burst PR is not going to enable the startup to really build a media presence. As stated, PR is all about managing the reputation of a brand. If a startup receives coverage in the media for one month of the year but then goes unseen for the remaining 11 months, it’s significantly hampering the way it builds the awareness and reputation of its brand.
PR without goals
Finally, a cardinal sin startups must avoid is to begin engaging in a PR strategy without clear goals. Any effective strategy is built around targets and goals; in PR, a startup should focus on making sure it promotes a certain message and brand image in front of its target audience.
Working backwards from this goal will ensure a startup targets the right publications with the right stories, in turn delivering relevant media exposure that delivers value back into the business. The alternative, doing in-house PR or engaging an agency without clear goals, will typically result in speculative press releases sent out in a haphazard manner, which is almost always a waste of time and money.
Earned media, as PR is known, is not only cheaper than traditional advertising (with a bit of nous, a startup can secure coverage in a national newspaper for a fraction of the price it would have cost to take out an ad in the same publication), but it also inspires trust with the audience.
It helps a startup reach large audiences quickly. Moreover, it tells that audience a business is respected enough to be talked about or called upon for their opinion – this makes the task of selling to these readers, whether they’re customers, investors or your next employee, far easier.
It takes thought, it takes planning and it takes a coherent strategy. But if done well, PR can help startups take huge strides in establishing their presence in a market.