November 4, 2022

Everything you need to know about PR for Startups

Public relations is a great way to build a brand, handy for startups or those looking to scale as earned media efforts are not paid but earned, so in comparison to other channels, it’s time-consuming but more cost-efficient. Brands can use PR to influence public perception, which is helpful in the early stages of a brand looking to attract interest from investors. This article will explain everything you need to know about PR for startups, from the strategies you can use to how to find a PR specialist to help you.

Article: Everything you need to know about PR for Startups

What is Public Relations

PR is the process of informing stakeholders about a brand while forming positive opinions. PR handles media requests, shareholder queries, social media, and questions about the brand from stakeholders, including customers, investors, suppliers, and the local community. But most importantly, it proactively shapes the perception of the brand by creating content and stories that will, later on, be placed in strategic media channels and communicated to key stakeholders of the brand.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines PR as "a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics."

Public relations spans a range of highly specialist areas, including:

  • Strategic communications, for example, mergers or acquisitions
  • Media relations to help develop a brand narrative
  • Internal communications, building a brand through internal marketing
  • Crisis communications, handling things when they go wrong
  • Public affairs, working with local government, legislators
  • Social media communications to ensure your brand is accurately represented and responding to comments

What is PR for startups?

Public relations for startups must focus on both short-term brand development and long-term reputation management. Essentially it is getting yourself on the media landscape to create a positive image for your brand and get you on your way to becoming a thought leader within your industry.

While established brands might use PR to help promote a new product, a startup PR strategy may attract investors' interest.

A startup cannot achieve the same results as companies that have been in business for decades. Therefore, PR strategies for startups should have startup-specific objectives, for example, generating brand awareness and becoming a thought leader in the short and long term. By leveraging the endorsements provided by media outlets, startups can suggest they are successful. Initial media placements can be difficult for an organization with no history. However, this can also be positive as a new brand can establish its reputation from the ground up by starting with a blank slate.

The PR strategies used for startups and larger firms are similar; they both focus on getting journalists to speak about the product or brand. However, startups don’t have relationships with journalists that established brands enjoy, so getting noticed is harder. Choosing the stories that will grab the attention of the journalist is essential.

Why do startups need PR?

A startup PR campaign can substantially accelerate brand awareness and foster productive media relationships. Without it, startups might fail to reach their customers.

PR for startups means a greater likelihood of

1. Obtaining funds or investment

You can raise more capital with a successful PR strategy. Building relationships through PR could lead to investment opportunities and new audiences. Startups need to prove their expertise in a given field. When investing in startups, investors need to see your company's capabilities. If done well, PR strategy can tell a startup's story. A good story could be about how your business got started. It can help convince potential backers that you have something great in store for them. Investors want to know what they are getting into, so crafting a narrative can help show this.

2. Increasing your customer base

Startups can use PR to create a favorable image for their target audiences. A company's image can make or break them. PR is intended to prompt brand awareness, boost website traffic and assist with revenue-generating activities. Media coverage helps reach new potential customers at different stages of the buyer's journey.

3. Educating the public on your product or service

PR can show potential new customers how your brand could solve a problem they may have. A comprehensive PR strategy will raise awareness of your product through coverage in the right publications.

4. Becoming a thought leader in the industry

Creating strategic thought leadership content strengthens your authority and establishes your brand as worth listening to. You can accomplish this by publishing well-written articles in relevant publications that target your audience or by giving talks at events attended by your target audience. You could share your expert opinion on industry topics in thought leadership content, demonstrating your company's credibility and earning trust. Your business could gain credibility by receiving third-party endorsements from prestigious publications or events.

5. Building trust

You could strengthen your sales conversion rate with the customers in your leads pipeline by discussing the press coverage journalists have given your brand. Press coverage can help convince your prospects to choose your solution.

6. Attracting the best people

You want to be able to recruit top talent. Brands with promising futures attract the best people. Candidates will be more likely to want to work with you if you are a startup that is newsworthy.

Why hire PR experts?

Rather than handling tasks or projects in-house, outsourcing can be more cost-effective. This is because it takes time to build an in-house team, and it is sometimes necessary to finish a project as soon as possible. When working with an external PR service provider, all costs can be agreed upon upfront, so know where you stand.

There are a lot of freelancers and agencies out there, making it possible to find subject matter experts with in-depth, detailed knowledge that your team does not possess. You need a story that resonates with media professionals if you want your PR strategy to succeed. A PR team can help you communicate effectively through the media to catch the attention of influencers.

PR firms vs. Freelance PR consultants

Most startups can't afford to hire a PR expert in-house. However, PR is a critical part of the marketing mix, so startups often face a big decision when embarking on their first PR campaign. Is it better to hire a freelance PR contractor or a PR agency? Each approach has pros and cons, and the right choice depends on several factors, including your industry and organizational maturity.

Let's look at the difference between a PR agency and a freelance PR contractor.

A PR agency provides a range of communications services using a team of specialized skills, generally with different experience levels. Using an agency means more straightforward tasks can be done by a less expensive staff member, potentially saving money compared to a consultant doing everything.

A freelance PR contractor is a person that sells their PR knowledge at a daily rate or perhaps charges a flat project fee. Some are specialized in specific industries. Some are more experienced in traditional or digital PR. Some work better with more mature startups, and some are more experienced in helping startups get funding.

Pros of hiring a PR agency

PR agencies may have specialists for different areas. Using an agency generally means accessing a larger team of professionals. Agencies live and breathe communications. An agency can get a campaign up and running faster than a freelancer using a pre-defined launch process. They already have tried and tested approaches. A larger agency team can launch campaigns with a "divide-and-conquer" approach. An agency can handle more unexpected events without delaying the project plan.

Cons of hiring a PR agency

Agencies typically cost more than freelance consultants. Generally, the bigger the agency, the higher the fees. Most agencies will need a minimum of 2,000 Euros monthly as a retainer.

The agency will likely prioritize clients that pay more, which isn't an issue as long as you receive the services you agreed on. However, the team in the pitch process, perhaps an account director and a sales manager, are unlikely to be doing the account's day-to-day activities. Junior staff members do a lot of the work, which senior members check. This is how the more junior team members get experience.

Pros of hiring a freelance PR consultant

Freelancers can be hired for specific one-off projects, which is more flexible than leasing a staff member into your team on a fixed-term contract. Hiring fixed-term contract employees also has legal and financial obligations. Hiring a freelancer is generally faster than hiring an agency, as the pitch process and scope of the work process are faster.

If you find a freelancer just starting to build their business, you will be treated well as your brand probably represents a lot of income for them. They will likely go above and beyond to meet your expectations. There won't be a change in staff down the line, something that might happen with an agency.

A freelancer is more likely than an agency to sit in your office and get to know the product, the people, and the culture. As you hire a person with a specific background, they might be hyper-specified in your industry and may know the journalists you need to contact. They might have personal relationships with the publications you are trying to reach.

Cons of hiring a freelance PR consultant

An independent freelancer may struggle to cover multiple areas in detail. One person can’t be in all places at one time. Your freelancer will inevitably have other personal commitments, so be unavailable sometimes. Potentially they may have childcare, travel, sickness, and vacation. Agencies can generally cover situations like this. Getting a project done might take longer than using an agency.

You will generally pay one day rate for a freelancer, which means one rate for all types of tasks, from proofreading a press release to going for lunch with a journalist. Depending on the activities they will be doing, the day rate could be expensive. The day rate of a freelancer will generally be higher than an equivalently experienced in-house salaried employee.

How to choose an agency or consultant?

OK, so which is best, a consultant or an agency? The answer to this question depends on the brand, its maturity in the market, its budget, and how competitive the market is.

The best approach to understanding which option is right for you is to meet some agencies and freelancers. By asking questions about their experience, you will get a feel for which one would work. Research: This might seem obvious, but research, research, research, find press releases and media coverage of competitors. Find out the PR specialist behind the campaign. Invite them in for a chat.

 

Ask for recommendations

Ask friends familiar with your industry who they know. Are there learnings, wins, and failures that could save you time and effort?

Budget

Think about how much you want to spend. This might depend on factors such as your profit margin or your desired market share.

Smart small

Another consideration is how to spread your budget; it is generally a good idea to do a small-scale test first and check the dynamics. Whether using a consultant or agency, you could start with one-off projects, then move to a performance-based project. Use KPIs to determine what success looks like. Some agencies don't like performance-based models so that a monthly retainer would be a good alternative option, but make sure you agree on what you get for the monthly payment.

Bigger isn’t always better

It might be tempting to go for a big agency, but bigger isn't always better; the smaller the agency, the more hungry they will be for your business.

Background checks

If you are interested in an agency, or a freelancer, get to know as much as possible about them as you can from independent sources. Ask their clients for confidential feedback.

Social proof

If the agency or freelancer has dealt with crisis management campaigns, read the social media comments. Would you like the same approach for your brand?

Meet your team

When meeting a PR agency in a pitch, you will generally meet their more experienced team members or even a salesperson. It can sometimes be hard to gauge who will be on your account team unless you insist on meeting them in person.

You will not see all the best ideas up front

In the sales process, the PR agency and freelancer will give you some ideas but will keep some back. That is to be expected. If they gave you all their opinions, you wouldn't need the support of a PR specialist.

Can they listen

PR professionals should be good at talking but must also be able to listen. Give critical points about your objectives at the beginning of the conversation, and listen if the topics are addressed in the pitch.

Integration

You're looking for a PR partner that integrates with the rest of your team but also one that is deeply embedded in the wider PR industry. Achieving this dual focus means having one foot inside your brand and the other foot outside the business, working with journalists.

Set clear objectives

Create clear expectations by going into detail on the contract and scope of work. Insist that regular reporting is delivered. Agree on goals for each campaign. Agree on what success looks like, perhaps links to your website or brand mentions? Or possibly top-tier placements? Keep detailed notes of all conversations. It will avoid awkward conversations at a later stage.

Approach

Do they rely on you to feed them with news, or do they make the news happen? Big difference.

When is a good time to start PR?

As with most things, timing is everything. You don't want to be too early, for example, before your product is ready to demonstrate. However, you don't want to be too late. So when is the best time?

Too early means not knowing what your value proposition is. The product may be ready, but the positioning isn't. Journalists need facts, the what, where, why, when who, and how, before they put their name to a story. What makes your product better than what is already available in the market? Starting a campaign too early means reaching out to journalists with unfinished product ideas—doing this makes it hard to get the journalist's attention once the product is ready.

Reaching out too late may mean missing out on that feature in "TechCrunch" if you work in tech or another renowned publication in your field. Set up Google alerts to monitor industry press. Create a list of journalists and editors with whom you want to build a relationship. Learn what makes your favorite journalists tick. PR is a key strategic channel for growth. Leverage as soon as possible, or else you'll miss opportunities to bootstrap your growth further.

A significant consideration is whether PR is in the budget. As a startup, every penny counts, so figuring out when to allocate funds to marketing is critical in your brand's evolution.

The recipe for the "right time" is when you have a clear, distinguishable product, mission, vision, and audience ready. At this point, the brand should have personality, tone of voice, and communication style; if not, the PR specialist can help. This typically happens before a Series A funding round.

Developing and applying a PR Strategy for Startups

1. Who are you?

Consumers today have higher expectations than ever before. Being authentic, credible, and likable are the keys to connecting with your audience. A brand that does not adhere to its values or does not seem to have a deeper purpose beyond making money may not last. To answer this, ask yourself: What are our unique selling points? What are our brand's beliefs? What is our brand story? Why do you exist? What’s that broken thing you’re here to fix?

2. Know your audience

Researching your market is the most critical part of any PR strategy. Make sure you know who your target audience is. A mistake often made is to try to appeal to everyone with the message you send, which ultimately will mean you might not appeal to anyone. With your PR campaign, who do you want to reach? Based on their customer profiles and the media they consume, you need to segment them. What do you know about your customer’s behavior patterns, values, likes, and dislikes? Your message will be more vital and your actions more strategic if you identify a specific audience. Consumers who embody everything you stand for are your aspirational target. They are the ones who share your brand's core values, even though they may not bring in the most revenue. In Diogo's view, this small group of people may not be enough to sustain your brand and drive business. Thus, it is also essential to identify your volume target; your potential customers.

Communication should be targeted at your aspirational audience. You'll also be able to attract your volume target if you keep your messaging focused on your aspirational target.

3. Set objectives

Use SMART objectives for your PR goals. Examples might be specific target media secured, the percentage share of voice among the competition, a particular number of increased web traffic sessions, the number of sales leads, the number of social media shares, and the number of likes or follows. During your campaign, you can keep track of these. Your campaign's objectives must be clear and concise. Clearly defining the goal and how to achieve it is essential for everyone involved. This is important in public relations for startup companies.

4. Make your message as straightforward as possible

So we have the "who" and the "why"; now, we need to define what we want to share. The next step is to select the themes you want to promote for your brand so that it will stand out from the crowd. Start with analyzing the overall value proposition you are offering your clients. Which qualities distinguish you? How would you like to be described? Briefly summarize what you want your audience to remember you by in your themes.

It would be beneficial to get feedback from your key audience. You can also use media monitoring and data analytics tools to determine customer perceptions.

You can use Ahrefs, Think with Google, and Pulsar to track what consumers search for and other consumer insights. Your communications will be much more strategic if you map out your audience's demographics and interests.

5. Choose your tone of voice

The way you say something is just as important as what you say. Audiences have an emotional response to the content they interact with. It's your tone of voice that engages and connects with your audience. This can be accomplished by aligning your brand values and mission with the voice of your audience. Once you sense what it should look like, match your tone of voice to the content format. You need to stand out from your competitors, so don't be afraid to get creative. Your brand can gain authority (and popularity) within your niche by using a consistent, unique tone of voice.

6. Selecting your channels

It's time to think about which media channels will help you reach your audience now that you know what you'll talk about and how you will talk about it. It would help if you thought about the positioning you want to achieve and how you want to be portrayed. To help you with this, we'll share the PESO model, a framework designed to show the integration of the available media channels and how you can use these in your strategy.

The PESO acronym stands for paid, earned, shared, and owned media. Here is a quick overview of each type of media:

Paid media

You must pay to distribute your content or ads through these channels. This category includes paid media partnerships, sponsored content, and social media ads.

Earned media

This channel requires a successful "relationship" with a media contact with an established audience, for example, Buzzfeed or Wired. You aim to get your content featured, get shoutouts from influencers, or execute successful publicity stunts.

Shared media

Shared media is your brand's social media content and can be user-generated. By building an audience to amplify your content, your organic social media mentions, networks, and events can grow over time.

Owned media

Owned media refers to the channels you manage, where an audience can go to find your content. It could include your website, press releases, podcasts, or online newsletters.

7. A press release

A press release is a public announcement sent to the media to generate interest in an organization. Its purpose is to reach out and communicate with specific parties to receive coverage and gain positive attention from a wider audience. Creating a press release requires knowing your organization's objectives and audience as part of your strategy. To reach existing and potential customers, your distribution should match your branding and allow you to build credible relationships with journalists. A press release, which is free to create and distribute, can generate interest in your product, brand, or a new story. It is essential because it establishes press coverage in a way you can control, offering an ideal way to share important information.

Press releases are an example of owned media which can become earned media if you generate enough attention from it and your release gets coverage.

8. Media pitching

In PR, media pitching refers to presenting your angle or story to a journalist so that it is featured in that publication. Pitching needs to be understood by PR professionals. Typically, a pitch is a short email that outlines the news and explains why it should be published. It is harder for a startup to gain coverage since media pitching success often depends on previous journalist relationships and contacts. Keep up with critical media, foster relationships, and be mindful of journalists' deadlines, life events, and anything else that might affect how a pitch is received.

9. Monitoring your success

You need a strategy that identifies KPIs, how to monitor success, and the tools that will help you do so. Knowing how the campaign performs is crucial in the early stages, especially as a startup.

Brand value can be maximized by adapting and changing things about your business. Understand your audiences' interest in your brand by using media monitoring tools. To cross-compare and gain insight, it is necessary to use several.

10. Integrating your content calendar

This calendar includes everything you need to pitch and gain coverage successfully. It would help if you used it to inform your social channels and content mix. There should be a breakdown of your tasks for the project. It would help if you integrated the calendar into your strategy to know when and where content will be published, thus helping you achieve consistency across tasks and projects. It can also be used to keep track of ideas, so you know what works.

Additionally, it helps keep everyone updated and on the same page. Get into a rhythm for using doing this.

Successful examples of PR campaigns

1. Drift's human-focused PR strategy

In the highly competitive tech sector, it's hard to stand out. Globally, there were just 100 marketing technology companies in 2013. By 2019, this number was over 7,000.

To differentiate his brand in a highly technical market, founder David Cancel humanized his brand. Drift's PR and marketing messages emphasize its employees in various creative, human-oriented ways. This is Dave’s LinkedIn post.

Example of PR Strategy of Drift

2. IKEA's "Stay Home" campaign

During the pandemic, and with people stuck indoors, Ikea took the time to remind us how important our homes are and of the importance of staying safe. Aside from that, IKEA wanted to demonstrate that well-decorated homes can create a calming, cozy atmosphere to social isolation.

Ikea public relations strategy example

3. Burger King's "Support McDonald's!" campaign

Burger King is known to take shots at its arch-rival, McDonald's. The two companies have engaged in heated Twitter exchanges for a few years. Despite this, it was somewhat surprising to see Burger King come out with this statement, encouraging customers to "support" their enemy (and other fast-food chains) because they were "suffering." The campaign worked because it was so dramatic and unexpected.

Burger King example of PR

4. Gymshark's Mental "Weight" Campaign

‍Most health and fitness brands use Instagram to encourage customers to purchase products. Gymshark took a different approach. Gymshark raised awareness about the often-secretive nature of mental illness. On social media, the brand posted photos of weightlifters wearing subtle messages on the sides of weights that reminded us that our minds could sometimes be as heavy as our bodies. The tagline "You wouldn't lift a heavy weight on your own" and that everyone needs someone else to "support" them now and again was an excellent way to draw attention to a cause that affects many.

PR Example of Gymsharks

Conclusion

Tech startup PR builds brand awareness and establishment in their industries. We have explained the unique advantages of startup PR in increasing your brand's recognition and reputation, distinguishing yourself from the competition, and helping create beneficial media relationships. You should also be aware of the benefits of working with an agency. With experience in PR working for companies such as Google and IBM, and now as CEO of PRLab,

I offer a range of specialized PR consulting services for tech startups, so don't hesitate to get in touch if you want to start growing your business immediately.

Logo of Matias Rodsevich, the best public relations expert in the Netherlands
PR Consultant & Business Coach
(+31) 202 440 065
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