As a founder or leader of a startup, you are the primary owner and builder of your company’s brand. Because you’ve been there since day one, you have the potential to be its greatest ambassador and evangelist to your customers, partners and the media. You may ask, Why should I entrust my company’s precious reputation to someone external, when I’m getting such great response simply responding to leads from referrals or word-of-mouth?
As the founder of a consulting firm that specializes in helping startups, I know first-hand how protective we can feel about our companies. My own firm is like a child to me. I know all about the money, sweat, tears, canceled vacations, missed soccer games and late nights you’ve poured in. I also know that if you’re a control freak like me, letting go of certain aspects of managing your business can be challenging.
Not every company is ready for PR
I will also tell you, based on experience, that not every business is ready to hire PR support. I often meet with companies who are looking to bring in a PR pro, and I must deliver the sometimes uncomfortable news that they are still a long way off from being able to launch a sustained, successful media relations program. Yes, you read that right: I have told startups that I will not take their money because they’re not ready yet.
And conversely, not every PR agency is suited to work with startups, where things happen fast and there is a non-stop sense of urgency. Some of the larger agencies won’t even return a phone call if your budget doesn’t meet their minimum threshold, and they often run into conflicts of interest because they already represent another company in your space.
However, you may have reached the point in the evolution of your startup where the mere idea of managing your own PR has become more than a little bit daunting. When you combine the day-to-day work of managing a PR campaign with your other duties as an entrepreneur or CEO (product development, go-to-market strategy, hiring and team building, attracting investors – just to name a few), it can quickly turn into a huge workload that doesn’t always get the time or prioritization it deserves. PR is a vital program for startups as they prepare to tell the world who they are and what they do. A solidly executed media relations program should serve as more than a one-time bump in awareness as you launch, but also provide a foundation for long-term amplification of your brand.
Is your brand media-ready?
So, how can you tell when you have reached the point where you need a PR consultant to do the heavy lifting for you? Here are a few signs to know when you’re ready.
- You have clear business objectives. I don’t just mean, “We need to attract customers and generate revenue.” That’s every business’s core objective. I’m talking about what your company needs in the next 1-3 years to grow and be successful. Are you looking to attract investors? Are you recruiting new employees? Is your exit strategy for this company a successful acquisition by a larger player in your industry, or perhaps an IPO? If you haven’t thought about this yet, you aren’t ready for PR.
- You have done your homework on the competition. I had a dollar for every startup who told me with a straight face, “We don’t have any competitors,” I could retire and live in Fiji by now. I personally know a VC who told me that when a startup pitches to him and says they have no competition, he stops the meeting and sends them away. Everyone has competition. If you don’t know yours, then you need to do some serious market research.
- You have the internal structure to support PR – and the things that will come with it. One thing startups often overlook when bringing in a PR agency or consultant is the amount of work and attention that will be required to get a media relations program off the ground and then keep it chugging. You’ll need a media-trained spokesperson to take interviews. You’ll need at least one person internally to review and approve strategy, materials, press releases, award nominations, and so on. Is that person you? If so, do you have the bandwidth to do the reading, reviewing, etc.? Are you able to meet deadlines and stick to timelines? If you do not have the internal structure to give a PR consultant the time and resources to get the job done for you, it’s too early. It will just feel like more work on an ever-increasing list of things you can’t get done.
- You have a story of substance to tell. At least once a month, I meet with a startup who says they want to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. But when I ask them what they think the headline should be they either can’t answer, or their answer isn’t really a news headline; it’s more of a commercial slogan. Getting into the Wall Street Journal is hard, even for companies much larger and more well-known than yours. A big mistake many startups make is they think it’s up to the PR firm to “make up” a story about their company out of thin air. Not only is that unethical, but that’s not what the media is looking for. If you want to be front page news, you have to be doing something that’s front page-worthy.
- You have dedicated budget. PR doesn’t have to be expensive, but you should be ready to invest an ongoing budget in a media relations program. If you’re still operating month-to-month as a business owner, it’s too early for PR. Perhaps consider a project-based approach where you bring in a consultant for a specific goal, such as a product launch or Kickstarter campaign.
- You understand what PR is. PR is not marketing. It’s not lead generation, customer relations, sales, or advertising. Yes, all of these disciplines can work together well to get great results, but in order for you to get the most value out of each, you should understand what they are, how they work and what you will get out of them. PR doesn’t stand for “press release.” It stands for “public relations.” PR results in media coverage that helps get the word out to your customers about your company. And while advertising also gets your brand out there, it requires a completely different approach than PR. Take some time to learn more about the discipline before you spend money on PR.
- You know who you are. If your startup has gone through more than three rebrandings or total website overhauls in the last year, then you’re not ready for PR. In fact, I would suggest that you and your team take a long, hard look at your business model if you’ve needed to significantly change your brand identity that often. Are you chasing the market, trying to be all things to all people? That’s not a sustainable business model. If you are simply not sure of how to position or market your brand, then instead of PR, consider a market research or competitive audit project.
If you would like to prepare your company for the many benefits of PR and media relations, get in touch with a Mesmerize expert today.