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Making PR work for early stage startups

Tuesday April 11, 2017,

4 min Read

I had a revelation today. A quick search on ‘why early stage startups need PR’ led me to a host of posts on why early stage startups don’t require PR. The posts argued that early stage startups lack content (especially if they are B2B), in-house expertise, a solid journalist network and above all – a marketing/ PR budget. As a PR professional I’d like to bust the myth and tell you how and why early stage startups should use PR to be better known, win customer & investor attention and recruiting.

I do understand that for many early stage startups, engaging PR is a chicken and egg scenario and many wonder when to start. Personally, I have had startups asking me this: should PR follow a product launch or precede it? Should I run a social media campaign first and then engage PR? Is not PR for funded startups only? I am a B2B startup, will a journalist be interested in my story?

While there is no single answer to the above, I can simply say this: to build a great brand, one must start early. Having a clear idea of the space you operate in and where you stand is a clear indicator that you are ready to take the plunge. You can also read this to see how 7 brands used PR to score sustained conversation (includes a campaign by Uber). Closer home, I know of early stage startups who have used press coverage to improve their SEO ranking, to attract further customers, to include in their pitch decks for seed funding and more…

So let’s get started. Below are 6 hacks for early stage startups to make PR work without investing a cent.

1.      Stand out. Perhaps the toughest thing to do. How do you elicit a response to a cold call/ email? How do you get a potential customer to buy your product? How do you get a journalist to write about you? The simplest thing to do is to put yourself in their place. We are all busy, but a conversation that is personal and talks to us directly is engaging. Adopt the same approach to PR.

2.      Start small. The first and foremost conversation you will ever have with a journalist is to introduce your startup. Keep it simple – explain what you do in ten words as if to a 10 year old. Journalists typically ask you to write them an email about what you do, the simpler the content, the more likely they are to profile you.

3.      Keep data handy. To say journalists love statistics, is an understatement. Data about the size of your industry, its growth, your customer segment, global comparison of trends are a definite must-know. This helps as you are immediately positioned as a sort after ‘thought-leader’.

4.      Know your competition. I have sat through several interviews where journalists immediately begin comparisons. Example: You seem like the Uber of.., how are you different from RazorPay, Most food tech companies do what you do etc. My advice: know your competition and what they do – so you can differentiate yourself from them!

5.      Build evangelists. Recently, the Times of India covered a startup I know. The story was around customer testimonials of how the product has made an impact. This to me, is the most powerful statement. Identify and hone customers who can be your ambassadors and can vouch for you without you asking them for it. Not only will the media cover you, you might have more potential customers seeking after you!

6.      Leverage the power of content. Human interest stories sell. Say a story, make it compelling. There are many examples of how powerful stories have broken through the clutter of everyday news only because you feel emotionally moved when you read/ watch/ listen. One such story: App-less in Bangalore: how I went grocery shopping as the city simmered