Buzz generation these days is a big deal. Good Public Relations leads to good buzz. PR has several benefits for a startup. A bootstrapped startup will gain a lot free and valuable visibility. This visibility will garner interest from consumers as well as possible investors/benefactors. Good PR in the early days can shield the startup from unfortunate hits to their business models. It increases credibility which can allow them to become more profitable, and can lead to lucrative alliances.
But how does a startup, especially those that are hardly known, garner PR buzz? How to build a neat website or an excitingly functional application is one thing and creating a newsworthy business is another. Having seen several startups spring up in my close vicinity, I can list a few techniques down that a startup can employ for their PR goals.
Very often entrepreneurs hesitate from taking center stage and would rather let their work speak for themselves, or their owned media channels do the talking for them. But there is more value for media in a startup that has a face to it, which is more than a business hiding behind a corporate veil. Audiences would rather know who the people are, what inspires them to burn the midnight oil and put so much on the line to provide a needed service; than how strong their bottom-line is. This may mean stepping out of their comfort zones, but it is worth it.
Instead focus on the problem that your service is solving. How does this manifest in day to day life? How does it affect the John Does and the Ashok Kumars? And catalogue their experiences, how it made a difference to their lives. That is the output of your business that people would like to know about – human stories, rather than the output that comes in the form of hard numbers. A startup called Parcelled started late last year aimed to solve a basic issue; couriering something without leaving your home/workplace. The service seems just as excited about resolving individuals’ helplessness as cracking the Indian logistics space.
A rookie mistake made by more than just a startup is trying to pitch your story to journalists who specialise in sectors that are not even remotely related to you. It is not too difficult to reverse engineer what inspires certain journalists or publications to dedicate their valuable space and time to a story, and it may be useful to research and map the media ecosystem by such factors, and pitch accordingly.
Pitch a story and not your business. Create an angle that they will be interested in writing, and their readers interested in reading. Another technique to make stronger cases is to bring in facts instead of opinions, insights that quantify elements of your industry’s ecosystem, its bottlenecks that you’re trying to solve, your achievements in doing that etc.
There’s always an optimum time for a startup to attract PR buzz. If done too early it may at best result in a lacklustre output, and if done too late there is plenty of opportunity lost. It is best for entrepreneurs to set indicative milestones to decide when to approach media with their stories; such milestones that link closely with your business goals, whether it’s minimum number of clients, or a round of investments, or team size and so on.
Nobody can tell your story better than you. On the other hand PR professionals specialise in storytelling and know how to create results more effectively. There are pros and cons of hiring professional help and this call must be taken through a holistic outlook; knowing the limitations of your team and the need for PR success that justifies the cost of onboarding professionals.
Few businesses (let alone a startup) realise that ultimately they’re a part of a society to which everyone can contribute for its betterment. When startup look beyond their growth objectives and include this contributions to their goals, it can help them create the differentiation they need. A startup called UrbanClap took it upon themselves to clean up some streets of Delhi. This simple gesture of helping out the community around them gained UrbanClap a lot of well-wishers, credibility and respect as a corporate citizen.
The blogosphere is relatively more receptive to interesting happenings in the entrepreneurial world. They are frequently on the lookout for exciting stories and exclusives and are usually quick to put them out as well. This is not to say that the same rules as the rest of this list do not apply to the, rather that the success rate, if one may term it as such, tends to be higher, and depending on the sector of the startup’s operation, the visibility that they provide can be more impactful and relevant.
Nobody likes that guy who calls you on only when he needs something. Don’t be that guy. Instead be proactive. Build and maintain relationships with media that are meaningful around your value. Even media feels that the time is not right or the content is not strong enough for your story to be picked up, all the more reason for you to continue your engagement and learn how that could be changed.
Bring in people as spokespersons or mentors who will not only help you navigate your strategic vision, but will also make your startup stand out just that much. Through wealth of their personal knowledge and experience, and that of their networks, they can bring an extra bit of credibility that gives media more confidence in you.
In all of this, it is equally important to know what not to do. Build relationships, not contacts. Don’t carpet bomb journalists with your pitch as most of them can spot these from a mile away, and do a better job of repelling them than intriguing them. In summary, don’t get desperate for PR, as long as you do somethings right and avoid doing anything wrong, you will not have to chase it, it will come to you.
School of Communications & Reputation (SCoRe) — India’s only institute dedicated to PR education. Know more about our PG programme in PR, and other activities we do to share PR Knowledge: www.scoreindia.org