Running your own PR can be a great way for your startup to save money. Here’s our cut out and keep guide to launching your brand on a budget
When trying to get a start-up off the ground it can be tricky to grow profile whilst making the most efficient use of resources. Public relations (PR) is a vital part of getting the word out about your business but when you’re still working from your kitchen table it might not feel like the best time to take on an agency. Handling things yourself is certainly a good way of getting started but, as with all things worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
One reason some PR efforts fail to even get out of the gate is because they don’t have a clear idea of who they actually want to reach. “If you fail to understand your target audience and the publications that they read, the rest of your PR plans will be fruitless,” explains Michele Bayliss, a PR consultant. “There is no point in targeting the FT if your target audience is more likely to be reading Practical Photography.”
Essentially, planning these sorts of efforts is about boxing clever. “Getting coverage is all very well but it’s not enough to ‘want a piece in TechCrunch’,” comments Sami McCabe, CEO of Clarity PR. Instead, an enterprise needs to know exactly what it wants to achieve with each piece of external communication, whether that’s attracting the attention of investors, courting new hires or expanding its client roster. “Every penny you spend on PR should be channelled into delivering specific business objectives.”
Making the headlines
So you know who you want to reach, the outlets you’re approaching and what you’re aiming to get out of it: what next? It’s time to start hitting up the hacks. “Find out what you need to do to get news and articles in these publications,” recommends Debbie Kelly, director of Republic Relations. “Put together an Excel document to keep track of which journalists and publications you’ve talked to.”
A huge part of communicating with journalists will involve crafting press releases for their perusal and, whilst this can seem intimidating to the newcomer, it’s easy enough if you keep it simple. “Hone your message and make sure it’s concise, clear and brief,” Bayliss says. The thrust of your offering should be something someone can take in at a glance. She continues: “If you cannot sum up your message in a few sentences, it’s too complicated – if the journalist won’t read it nor will the readers.”
Of course, simplicity alone ain’t gonna cut it: an enterprise needs to be able to stand out from the crowd. “If a business is the first to be doing or selling something or is just the best at what it does, this automatically puts it in a stronger position,” comments Shannon Haigh, head of PR at 10 Yetis, the PR agency. “Journalists are inundated with pitches every hour of every day, so the first thing they want to find out is what sets you apart from competitors.”
But it’s important to remember that you’re talking to people who have almost certainly heard it all before so, even if you think you’re sitting on the next Snapchat, not every reporter is going to bite. “Many start-ups have a product which they consider revolutionary,” comments Kieran Kent, managing director at Propeller, the B2B PR agency. “However, just because you have a new product, that doesn’t mean that a journalist will want to write about you.”
One of the most important things about getting your brand out to the press and the public is realising it’s not all about you. “The biggest mistake people make is to solely talk about their own business,” Kent says. Fortunately there is another way: if there’s anything a journo or Joe Public loves, it’s free content. He continues: “In such a growing content era, it’s become necessary for spokespeople to have opinions on wider industry issues.”
Whilst getting a big spread in a national might not be realistic for a start-up with a low profile, content outlets like the Guardian Professional Networks can offer a great chance to associate your name with a big media brand. “You just need an insider’s knowledge of your industry, a timely theme, some colourful opinions and an ability to string written words together,” explains
Helen Down, PR Consultant at Treacle PR. “If you’ve got these qualities in the bag, it [...] can really help to get the PR ball rolling.”
Another great way to get your name on everybody’s tongues is to get on the blogging bandwagon. “A company blog is a fantastic resource for sharing your story and news,” comments Cathy White, account manager at Albion Drive. “Regular updates as you grow can be a great platform for a journalist on the prowl and it’s an easy way to send a link through Twitter and direct them back to your site.”
The social club
Social media has allowed start-ups to effectively compete with internationals that have huge PR budgets at their disposal for the first time. Most audience demographics are going to have their own preferred social tools and picking the right channels again depends on who you want to reach. “You will need to decide what works best for your audience,” Kelly says. “For example a young target audience will almost certainly call for an Instagram presence.”
But it’s not just members of the public who can easily be reached through social networking. “Social media such as Twitter [is a great way] to meet journalists,” comments White. Social networks offer a much more direct route to a journalist’s in-tray than older mediums like email. “A quick tweet following an article relevant to you, with a simple ‘You may find this interesting…’ or ‘Did you know that…’ can be great way of introducing yourself.”
And it’s not just a one-way street: networks like Twitter offer excellent insights into the sorts of briefs publications are currently exploring. “Follow ‘#journorequest’ to see what writers and editors are looking for,” says Haigh. This will allow you to offer targeted advice to their readers and mean that you’re much more likely to get some column inches than if you’re just spamming magazines and newspapers with your company bio.
Most important when dealing with social media though is not biting off more than you can chew: focus on delivering quality not quantity. “Turn on the social channels in a linear fashion as you gain bandwidth,” says Sam Howard, PR consultant and founder of The Comms Crowd, the communications agency. “They are all hungry beasties and need feeding. It’s much better to have a few channels that are well run and content rich than half a dozen channels that are neglected most of the time.”
From his experience working with clients like Blackberry, 118 118 and Swiftcover, Joshua Van Raalte, chief executive of Brazil, believes there are three factors that really get people to sit up and pay attention to your PR:
Legitimacy is vital to prove that the business has the correct foundations in place. Journalists are bombarded every day with new start-up ideas and concepts and unfortunately few of them go on to be written about. They ask tough, often cynical questions, and need to see proof points. This means experienced management, strong financial backing, a fully researched concept, a tangible sales strategy and a clear understanding of market demand. Surprisingly, too many start-ups don’t have many of these points covered.
Authenticity could emanate from the initial concept, the inspiration for the business or the research and development behind the technology. It’s what a business can uniquely claim as their own, and of course can also be a valuable IP asset if it’s eligible for a copyright, patent or trademark.
The more people your business is relevant to, the more powerful the PR potential. As an example, last year we launched Kite Patch, a soon-to-be-launched patch which is worn on clothing and prevents malaria infections. Our campaign drove potential financial supporters to a crowdfunding site with the aim of raising $75,000 for the next stage of development. Kite’s potential benefits to society captured the human element of the innovation, and as a result, the company raised over $550,000 – more than seven times’ what was originally anticipated.