Lucy Wimmer, communications partner at EQT Ventures, on how tech entrepreneurs should approach PR.
When launching a startup, it can be easy to be caught up in the excitement of the ‘right now’ and see PR as an added extra. Equally, founders who begin a PR programme assuming it will solve all of their problems are set to be disappointed. It’s long been time to set the record straight; to illuminate what PR can and — perhaps, most importantly — can’t do, how to kick off PR efforts, and how to manage an agency.
Crucially, PR isn’t a silver bullet that will instantly result in top-tier coverage, enterprise sales or shiny new partnerships. Whether it’s an agency or an in-house communications specialist, investing in PR in isolation won’t conjure a crowd of skilled people knocking down the office door for a job, nor will it result in sales growing exponentially, nor the startup in question suddenly becoming famous in a brand new territory. However, if aligned with the broader business strategy and not siloed, PR can help to drive all of these results and more.
To this end, it’s paramount for founders to establish early on what they want to achieve as a business. Entrepreneurs should cast their minds back to the beginning of their business: chances are, most set out to solve a problem for people. As such, careful consideration is required when it comes to telling this story. What is the problem? Why is it important? How does this particular offering address the issue?
PR is about more than merely pushing out press releases to journalists, crossing fingers, and hoping for some coverage. At its core, it’s about telling a compelling story that resonates with people — makes them feel connected. Rather than being reserved solely for an external audience, a genuine story sits at the core of a business. It feeds into the direction of the product, how the product is sold, the people hired, and the startup culture created in the process — in short, every area of a startup. As such, everyone at the company should understand the vision, its overarching mission, and be able to communicate it clearly.
Just as a startup’s offering will be aimed at a specific audience, so should its communications. By investing time into researching what makes target audiences tick, and where they consume their media, startups will reap the benefits.
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Brand visibility in and of itself certainly has value, enhancing awareness of a startup’s name across a widespread audience. For example, when a startup founder is interviewed on TV or radio, or their name is attributed to a recent survey in the national press, it’s often the case that the startup’s name will be remembered but not necessarily what it does.
This is where the power of tailored messages comes in — specifically, messages aimed at people who are making key decisions, using, and buying the product in question. For example, what keeps CMOs up at night won’t necessarily be what keeps up a CEO, or a CTO, or a CDO. Learn what drives all the people you’re targeting and the type content they consume. PR covers more than traditional press publications; it also encompasses the likes of social media, broadcast, and online forums.
As such, a startup’s story should run throughout its website, its social channels, underpin all its events, and more. Ultimately, those who keep their target audience in mind at all times will be the ones who succeed in engaging those they wish to reach the most. In practice, this means building campaigns and stories that really push an audience’s buttons across a variety of platforms and mediums.
Before even contemplating hiring an agency or an in-house communications expert, startups must establish and understand where PR fits into their marketing plan and clearly define what success looks like to them. For some, it’s tangible new business leads; for others, it’s industry-leading tech talent seeking employment within their organisation.
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One of the most common complaints I hear from startups is that their PR agencies aren’t delivering, but digging beneath the surface often reveals that this is because KPIs haven’t been discussed or agreed on. Another common issue is that, if KPIs have been set, they’re not aligned with the wider business strategy, focusing instead on (for example) coverage numbers. Finally, there’s a pervasive problem whereby nobody in-house has time to manage a PR agency efficiently.
This last point must be remembered above all, as it’s easy to forget that working with a PR agency is a two-way street – the more a startup’s team puts into an agency, the more they’ll get out.
Founders can’t simply sign a contract and assume the agency will just crack on with no support. Instead, the PR agency needs to understand the startup inside out, which includes (but isn’t limited to): topics that agreed spokespeople are happy to discuss with the media; new customers; strategic partnerships. If nobody’s available on a daily basis to amend and approve content, provide access to spokespeople, or collaborate on new campaign ideas, then it becomes very difficult to gain quality results.
Consequently, for best results all around, startup founders should step back, take some time to think, and write their marketing and PR plan before enlisting extra support in this area. This way, they stand the best chance of success.