In Public Relations, there are no one-size-fits-all approaches and we have to ensure that our companies and clients are using the most sophisticated strategies that support the organization. For startups, especially tech startups, PR may look different, challenging, or sometimes the same as corporate communications.
Understanding that a startup is not a small business, although there can be some crossover. In the business world, a startup is defined as “a company in the first stage of its operations. Startups are founded by one or more entrepreneurs who want to develop a product or service for which they believe there is a demand. These companies generally start with high costs and limited revenue which is why they look for capital from a variety of sources such as venture capitalists.
Startups must specifically address the unique needs and challenges of being a new company while creating their PR strategy. ~ Ivy Cohen, President and CEO of Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications
On Prime Time PR Chat we discussed the differences between managing public relations for a new company versus managing public relations for an existing company. One concept that we could all agree on was that startup public relations plans have to be fluid, as the companies are still adapting and changing based on the market experience and investors.
What makes for good public relations for a brand new company and how do we practice PR in this business environment?
Goals for each company vary but for most startups cover the following:
- Educating on new product/service
- Raising funds to build/grow the business
- Acquiring new customers
- Generating sales/trials of product/service
- Differentiation from competition
- Attracting top talent
But what about media, you say? Yes, everyone wants media coverage to get customers and to grow market share.
Dave McClure famously said, “@TechCrunch don’t pay the rent” which still makes me smile. Startups often have a hyper-focus on media covers and it is not always the best move. Neil Patel warns us that “for a startup that hasn’t settled on a product customers love, press coverage can be a huge mistake. Despite popular belief, getting as much press attention as possible right out of the gate is rarely a good idea.” Mark Cuban, the outspoken entrepreneur, Dallas Mavericks owner, and “Shark Tank” investor, tells Business Insider that a young company should almost never hire a public relations firm.
So the experts are saying no to public relations for startups? No!
What they are pointing out is that public relations agencies are often a surrogate for contact with the business and entrepreneurs, especially those just starting out will want to build those first key relationships themselves. Yes, hire a consultant or bring someone on board to manage PR but an early-stage company cannot afford to be one step removed from the media.
These two highly respected experts get it: PR is about building relationships and it can be crucial and complicated during the early stages of a companies growth. Early-stage companies often do not have a steady stream of press releases and do not need constant media relations. A PR agency might be overkill for a startup where a consultant or in-house team is just the right size to ensure that when the company does have news, there are experts on board to manage that process.
One thing that startups have to look out for is that so many agencies rely on outdated, purchased media lists combined with rough and tumble media relations practices when pitching your brand to journalists and reporters.
If you have a public relations agency that looks at media relations as an automatic process, where you just plug-and-play or spray-and-pray, then you are missing out on the vital strategy of actually building relationships with journalists. If media relations is a tactic that is handed off to junior staff, to process press releases and media pitches in bulk, then you are missing out on the benefits of great media relations.
If your startup is at the initial business stage you will have to decide how and when you will use public relations as a communications strategy.