There are lot of questions related to PR (Public Relations) that that often pop up in the minds of startups. So, in the simplest possible format, I have made an attempt to answer a few.
What is PR?
PR is largely about getting a third party to talk positively about your company or story in a visibly organic fashion. Take a minute and think—it's a very competitive space and people are quite opinionated as well. No matter who you are and how different or innovative your startup is, the fact is your audiences need to know. They need to be informed and influenced, oftentimes through news and through peers.
When is a right time to do PR?
PR is a journey and it needs to flow in continuity. It is required at every step to leap ahead in the growth ladder. For example, if your start-up is planning to fundraise and you need to spread the word out to attract investors, then start early. If you have already raised money and you want to increase a consumer base then PR is required. If your company is doing well, then for growing exponentially along with everything else, PR is also one of the key functions.
Is reaching out to friends in media enough?
Some of you might have friends who are working in the media and you think that their interest should be sufficient to meet your publicity requirements, which may not be the case always. Having a journalist friend could be an asset, but do remember the possibility that you might just get one story in one publication/newspaper.
Can startups do PR themselves?
I know that PR is not cheap, and enough has been said about it. Initial publicity is easy and you can manage some of it yourself. You could possibly reach out to your friends in the media, get someone to write a news release and use services for dissemination. But for effective and strategic PR, it's better to go with a professional. As a start-up you are always looking for cost-saving options but PR is an investment that has the potential to complement the growth of your business to a next level.
It's a very common habit among PRs to brag that every important media person is their close friend. Don't fall for it. It's all about the business.
What is crucial for a successful PR campaign?
A successful PR campaign should have an equal focus on strategy and execution. Your PR strategy should have a long-term positioning vision. It should comprise a multi-pronged approach to reap all possible strengths of not only the start-up but also the founders and target audiences for your company's growth. Smart execution is also an absolute requirement. In addition to good writing skills and media relations, PR requires persuasion, conviction and an eye for opportunity. Both strategy and execution should include tactics to act on the needs and risks at different stages of the startup's development.
How soon can one get to see results?
Image-building is a process. It starts with publicity, which is entry-level work, and then graduates to positioning, which takes time to convince the right influencers. Usually a three-month period is required to see results of effective PR. Initially no one knows your company enough to write a positive story. Even if your first story appears in days or weeks, for effective flow and constant reiteration you need to give it time.
How to choose a PR service provider?
The market is flooded with PR companies (both big and small) and also freelancers, and the size of the company you choose doesn't really matter. Whenever a PR company or freelancers present their credentials, you should interview the person who is expected to handle your company. Make sure you know the kind of work they have done in the past, where they did their media training from, a sample of work done for their clients, most successful PR campaign, experience with handling crisis, media knowledge, media relations. Knowledge of regulatory and political issues within your startup industry is also required. You should ask for media references too.
Caution: It's a very common habit among PRs to brag that every important media person is their close friend. Don't fall for it. It's all about the business.
Any other advice?
PR is not magic; it is a support function for your startup. It can make a significant contribution if you as a founder are clear with messaging, vision, company direction, culture and voice.
Moral of the story
Like it or not, people will believe what others say about you long before they believe anything you say about yourself (or your product). That is the fundamental value that every successful PR campaign leverages.
Please feel free to comment if you have any suggestions or additional questions.