Best Practices in PR for startups

Best Practices in PR for startups

As a journalist who has reported on startups and investors for half a decade, I could share multiple stories which are examples of bad PR for startups but I will skip them to share what are best practices and save our time.

I think the more important aspect to discuss is how startups can do intelligent PR and why it is so important to grow your business.

There is a reason why Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft said,

“If I was down to my last dollar, I would still spend it on public relations.”

I agree in principle with the importance of PR but spend money? In my view, PR if done the right way, the good and strategic PR does not require a penny to be spent by you. To clarify, here we are talking about ‘media coverage’ and not advertisements in media. In words of Richard Bradson, Founder of Virgin Group and author,

“A good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page advertisement.”

In this article, I intend to deal with the portion of PR that helps you get stories and coverage in media publications.

Here is a list of some basics that you need to get right even before thinking of approaching a journalist to cover your startup. Remember, PR for startups is far more critical than PR for big companies.

Is your startup ready for PR?

This is the fundamental question you need to ask yourself as a startup, and most of the times you will miss doing so. The excitement of starting up coupled with a shade of interest by a journalist will make you want to share your entire story with media- what is your passion, why you started , what are your growth plans and so on. Please, do not do this in a rush. As a journalist, I have written about startups who shut shop in three months , or their business model completely changed after 6 months and whatever they were quoted on initially was later ‘null and void’. The rule is to wait till you are sure of your idea and you exactly know the features of your product, if there is one. You should not be in the ‘hit and trial’ stage when being interviewed by a journalist. Do not give interviews before you are on firm footing and in no conditions spill all your beans which you might not be able to pick up later.

Should you hire an agency which helps in PR for startups?

First things first, you will have budgets for a PR agency only when you are funded and a PR budget in marketing is kept aside. Let’s presume that has happened.  It is true that you might not know about PR much, as you are an entrepreneur, but I would still recommend that you take your time and be very picky while hiring a PR agency. If you are looking for external help in PR for startups, the best approach in my view is to freelance it to one person who understands this space and gets you strategic, targeted intelligent coverage rather than getting a big agency on board. The reason is simple- big agencies will have a startup as a minor client and you will never be high on priority. Even when you are one of their clients, out of the box thinking for a niche start up might be challenging for a big agency. Hence, you either chose a niche agency that deals with startups or hire a PR professional in-house to manage your media relations.

Get your messaging in place

What is messaging? In very simple words, messaging is the three to four main aspects you should highlight about your company to media. The three messages should be related to the uniqueness of your business model. For instance, you are a taxi cab service app in India, these could be your three messages:

  • What you offer better than others. If you are first in the market doing this business, nothing like it. So the messages would be : Most affordable cab service in the country OR the country’s first taxi cab service app. 
  • What bigger problem you are solving as a startup. How are you giving back to society. It could be : support global warming by car pool : need of the hour
  • Something news worthy which always generates interest with journalists. It could be : Funded by XYZ, the most experienced investors OR the fastest growing startup in travel  

Every story you are interviewed for or you pitch to the media should fall under these three pillar messages.  I would suggest not to be tempted to go beyond the three pillars and keep your PR focused.

Identify the best media channels

All media coverage is not good coverage. If you are a Primary School and all your coverage is in a Financial Daily, it has no return on investments and is a waste of time. You need to know why you are doing PR and which target audience you are trying to reach through which media publication or channel.

For instance, if your end goal is to raise more funds for your startup, you need to approach a publication which has investors as readers. If you need customers, you need to choose accordingly. The key is to be very careful while sharing a relevant story with the equally relevant journalists.

Catch the right journalists

Just like everyone cannot be your customer, every journalist is not right for you. The category of journalists who cover events, write large format stories or columns/trends are all different. The common mistake by PR professionals is to reach out to a laundry list of journalists for each story. A smart thing should be to make a list of all the journalists who write regularly about the area your startup is functioning in, read their previous work and accordingly pitch areas that interest them. Be familiar with their work before pitching an idea to them. This saves your time and the journalists’ time.

Be part of larger industry trends and author articles

It is not always that you will have some news about your startup to share with media. After all, even readers need a breather from news stories talking about X invests in Y and Z launches a new product or expands outside the country. If you want to be a journalist’s best friend,  know what is happening in the industry and ensure that you have a perspective on it. For instance, if there is a recent report on increasing number of startups in Berlin. Take statistics from this research and write your views as a thought leader about it. Share these authored articles with media. In fact, keep a track of every development that is happening and effects your sector or the startup industry. Blog regularly on it and share articles. The right media will reach out to you for comments at the right time.

Diksha Dutta is an Indian columnist and media professional. She has a wide experience of writing on startups/VCs/PE during her six-year long stint as a full-time business journalist. At present, she is also working on a book on Indian businesses with Bloomsbury India. Diksha works at Ashoka University, a pioneer in liberal arts education in India. She is based in New Delhi, India.

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