Ronjini Joshua is the CEO and Founder of The Silver Telegram, Host of The PR Playbook Podcast and founder of The Social Equity Council.
As a PR professional who has been working almost solely with startups for the last 15 years or so, I can say definitively that PR is different at a startup than at a larger company. The biggest differences include speed, budget and creativity. And while larger brands have larger budgets, they don’t always have the excitement factor of a startup.
Unfortunately, the thing that startups don’t always have is PR experience. When we work with startups, it sometimes feels like a lot more work because we need to teach them about public relations and how to maneuver the media along the way. Here are some of the key things startup founders, entrepreneurs and small business owners should know about PR programs, PR professionals and the media to have a successful program.
1. Hire someone you get along with and trust.
Hiring a PR pro is like dating. Check out my previous Forbes Councils article where I wrote about What To Look For In—And What To Bring To—A PR Agency Relationship. To sum up, you have to be able to interact with your agency on a regular basis and you need to have someone you feel open enough with to tell your communications challenges, secrets and desires to. So make sure when you select an agency, you also consider personality fit as a key factor in the decision.
2. Plan ahead.
Trying to do PR last-minute is a losing game for you, your agency or your freelancer. You need to plan ahead to have successful gains here. The earlier you can plan, the better; but if you have an announcement hitting in a month, the time is now to hire a PR pro who can help you get moving. Media is getting harder and harder to capture so that extra bit of time could be the difference between two stories and 10 stories. This is probably the most important factor when dealing with startups and media.
3. Commit to collaboration.
I say this often. PR is not magic, although PR professionals are mystical creatures who can make magic happen. When you’re doing PR for the first time in your startup, a larger amount of collaboration will be needed to make it successful. We’ve also found that if you haven’t done PR before, we don’t know yet what messages will land, so that can take a bit of time to fine tune. Make sure you communicate early and often. Once you get into a groove, your PR person should be able to take more of the reins.
• Expect recommendations and use them.
We’ve been hired to execute more times than I can count. Sometimes startups think they know what they need but, the truth is, when you’re doing startup PR, most of it is uncharted territory. You need to try different methods and ideas. That said, a good PR pro will give you recommendations and explain what is happening. Working with startups for more than a decade, we usually know how quickly ideas will work and how to pivot to try something new. That is a skill that is pretty unique to startup PR.
• Make yourself available.
When you’re looking for media coverage and attention, you must, I repeat, you must make yourself available. There are always founders who send us off to go get media interviews and when they start rolling in, founders have no time to take the interviews. Be careful what you ask for and be ready for when it comes. Media does not want to talk to the PR rep or marketing person, they want to engage with the foremost expert in your space. Make sure you are carving out time to become the next big thing.
• Get media trained!
So many people feel like talking to investors and customers is the same as speaking to the media. Not so. I have seen experienced CEOs look like a deer in headlights when it comes to tricky questions on the phone or being on television. With anything, coming off naturally takes practice. Make sure your PR person does media training and offers that to you. No matter how well positioned you think you are, there’s always a question that can get you in a tough spot or if you’ve never been on live TV. You should record yourself to see how it goes. It’s better to be ready than to be sorry.
• Nothing is “off the record.”
The more experienced the journalist the less likely it is that you’ll feel like you’re being fooled. I admire the questioning abilities of senior journalists. They make you feel comfortable, you think you’re talking to a friendly person and then…BAM! The investment number or customer name that you weren’t supposed to mention gets aired out in a public article. Remember to never say anything you don’t want to see in print. I’m all about the safe approach. There is nothing wrong with saying you are “not able to address that question” during a media interview.
While I can probably come up with a whole dictionary of public relations do’s and don’ts, for startups the seven areas listed here are key areas where startups differ and can begin educating themselves. The best thing about startup PR is the ability and opportunity to be creative with what you do. Just have a backup plan or pivot plan in case it doesn’t go the way you want. Creating a strategic communications or PR program may be the key to becoming the next leading innovator in your industry.
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