Wednesday 24 August 2011

PR for Startups: How to get the word around & build credibility

Being an entrepreneur is tough. I’ve been a part of and worked with several startups over the years and seen their sheer grit to get things done and see things through. During the early days and the growth phase, public relations exercises have made a tremendous difference to companies in building more credibility, standing out from competition and even attracting talent. PR helps lend that aura around a name.

One of the most important aspects of PR is to be honest about who you are, what you do and to highlight that. Once, I was called in to help build visibility for a mutual fund that was the black sheep of the industry when it started. They refused to pay distributor commissions and sold direct to the customer without levying entry loads, thereby saving on their expense ratio. SEBI, of course, eventually abolished entry loads charged by mutual funds. Since there were no advertising budgets, we used media relations as a tool to get our point across. We reached out to all journalists who wrote in that space and met with them. We did newsletters and guest articles that brought home the point of view of the mutual fund. We simply focussed on talking about what they did, why they did it and how the customer benefitted. Soon, the company was being quoted and talked about in most mutual fund articles. It was a small mutual fund standing up against industry giants. But everyone took notice.

No matter how small you are, you can still reach out and find that someone is watching and listening. Most startups have very little to spend on marketing. If you don’t have the budgets you can still manage your PR. Contrary to popular belief that PR means high visibility in media, public relations actually encompasses all of a company’s existing and potential audiences – customers, employees, investors and partners. All entrepreneurs dream of their name being splashed across the front page of leading dailies and magazines. Please remember that media/press is a tool, a medium to influence your larger goals.

What you will need is just one thing that is most scarce – time. You and the team need to sit down and chalk out a plan on what audiences you need to reach out to and how. If you don’t have the bandwidth, focus on what’s most important to you at the moment and make short-term plans. Focus on a few key outcomes that you want to achieve.

A few pointers include:
- Write down outcomes you want achieved for each of your target audiences in terms of perception and key messages
- What media would you need to reach out to them and how will you use these
- Timelines for the communication activity and who will lead them internally
- Contribute time, effort and patience

For example, one of the key messages for potential investors could be strong team background. For this, one medium could be press. You could do team profiling via guest articles by the team. Another medium could be events and in terms of speaking ops for your team. One could focus on these activities for a period of 3-6 months and then, use other media and tools.

It’s important to remember that PR is cheaper than advertising, has better credibility and all it costs is your time. PR is not just for the biggies. Startups can be seen and heard too. You can develop your own unique do-it-yourself formula and win.