Your new company has just created a fantastic and innovative product or service. Your business plan is in your hand and you’ve rehearsed your elevator pitch excessively. Now you need to let people know about what you’re offering and go about attracting customers.
While traditional marketing and advertising might be a common port of call for new businesses – there's also a compelling case to be made for the use of PR for start-ups.
In this guide, we'll highlight several of PR's key benefits for this demographic and offer some top tips on how start-ups can get the most out of PR without breaking the bank.
A Brief Introduction
There's a bunch of industry-standard and canned definitions for PR, but with the world of marketing constantly in flux, it can be hard to pin down exactly what PR is.
The way I've come to consider the field is that marketing is focused on blasting your target audience with key messages in order to directly increase sales and boost your bottom line. PR, however, focuses on any activity that builds up the profile of a brand and creates a positive image and reputation that can have a range of holistic benefits (which often includes more sales).
Timing and Targeting
Successful PR is all about timing and as a start-up, as it’s incredibly important you choose the right moment to get your message out there.
One option that can be effective in terms of both cost and coverage for start-ups is the humble press release. These cost next to nothing to produce in-house and if the story is right, it can garner attention in all the right places.
However, start-ups are often eager to get their message out and can sometimes jump the gun in terms of timing and topic. There's a right way and a wrong way to handle every type of story, but in short – make sure it's tailored to the type of publications you're aiming at.
For instance, taking on new staff might not matter to an industry magazine, but if the benefits to the local economy are highlighted – might be well received by a regional or local paper. Similarly, an industry magazine might not care about your expansion, but your innovative product design might tickle their fancy.
The best press releases have clear, defined messages, and the most successful companies put them out sporadically, so that they each have different but relevant messages (as opposed to a single release with everything crammed in).
Making sure your press release is newsworthy is also an important factor, as it's easy for start-ups to overestimate the importance of a certain milestone to journalists and/or the wider public.
A start-up company still in its infancy will usually only have a few tales to tell, for example, the company launch, first product/service or financial investment and therefore, it's imperative that the timing is right so that the opportunity for coverage is not wasted.
Press interest in your stories will dilute if you saturate them with too many in a short space of time, so save yourself time and effort and only focus on milestones you're sure are of broad interest.
Hitting the Bullseye
It may be tempting to utilise a ‘spray and pray’ tactic, in which you use all your energy in telling as many people as you can about your new product or service. In theory this seems like a great idea, but in reality you’re wasting time and energy reaching out to people who will never be a potential customer.
Informing a Ninja Turtle about a new fried chicken establishment would be a waste of time, however, if you owned a pizza parlour your efforts may be rewarded.
The lesson behind that unwieldy metaphor is that the first step on any marketing and/or PR campaign should be to define your target audience(s), and then research the best ways in which to engage with them, and let them know about your new company's wares.
While more expensive than doing it yourself, one option is to hire a PR agency that will help your business find the correct channels to reach your desired audience - identifying papers, magazines, and social media in the community you wish to aim your product/services towards.
With internet connection speeds growing ever-faster and people carrying tiny computers in their pockets - more emphasis is being put on digital media than ever before. And the potential of using social media channels to raise awareness of new technologies and opportunities should never be overlooked as a cost-effective avenue for start-ups.
Search: The internet can be an invaluable tool in helping you to connect with potential customers, and the ability to use Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), which can help you increase online visibility, is a fantastic option. If you’re selling novelty kettles, and you aren’t being displayed in the top results on Google when people are searching for ‘Buy Novelty Kettles’, then you're potentially losing out on hundreds of customers each year.
It's not as simple as being in it to win it, however, and if you opt to tackle SEO on your own, expect to face a lot of hard work and learning, on top of the day-to-day running of your company. If you operate in a particularly competitive sector, you may also face stiff competition for that coveted first-page top spot.
Social: Social media can be a great way to instantly get the word out about your start-up and promote it to your key audiences. If you've opted to invest in SEO, inbound or content marketing - social channels also present a great platform for marketing your content to key audiences.
For example, if you are in the cheese industry, your company could start a blog in which they demonstrate different meals utilising your cheese (or cheese-related) product. Not only will this enable you to create engaging content that people will enjoy, but posting regular content is an easy way to make your website more visible to search engines.
The spreading of positive sentiment via word-of-mouth is multiplied exponentially via social channels, so if people like what you’re doing and start actively engaging - this can help to rapidly develop your following. It can also provide a ready-made customer service platform – allowing you to respond to enquiries, complaints and praise near-instantly.
While many social evangelists are quick to make it seem like all your Christmasses have come at once if you engage in social media marketing – it's not all rosy. While costs are low or non-existent, doing social well is an incredibly time-intensive task, particularly if you attempt it while juggling the day-to-day running of a business.
It can also be hard to measure the return on your investment and justify the amount of time you're spending on social. While having more followers arguably results in a wider audience, they may not necessarily be prospective customers.
As such, you'll also need to focus on engagement and driving traffic to your company website and engage in regular evaluation to find out what's not working and where you should be focusing your efforts.
While it's highly cost-effective, as with most digital marketing options – you'll get out what you put in and since more and more companies are realising the benefits and hopping on the bandwagon, you'll need to put in time and effort if you're to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Events can be a great option for start-ups looking to raise their profile within a geographical or industry-specific community and generate exposure for their business in a certain field or geographical region.
Depending on the type of event you’re looking to hold - these can also provide a platform for small businesses to showcase their expertise in a given area.
Interacting with your target audiences in the real world can be an invaluable source of qualitative research - enabling you to get to grips with the needs and pain points of your prospects. Events can also offer great networking opportunities and if cultivated correctly - can lead to new business.
Events come with a relatively high price tag when compared to many other marketing activities. Costs will quickly rack up in terms of venue hire, refreshments, presentations and promoting the event.
The time, effort and resources you’ll need to invest into putting together a successful event shouldn’t be underestimated either. Staff will be taken away from their fee-earning work to tackle the logistics of the event and productivity will undoubtedly suffer.
There’s simply no way to guarantee the success of an event either. Companies that are inexperienced in arranging such activities might fall foul of common pitfalls and a lack of attendees or engagement can turn an event into something of a white elephant.
For all the work that goes into an event, the results can also be hard to quantify. The metrics that matter will depend on the specifics of your industry and event - however, some common factors to pay attention to are any leads generated through it, editorial coverage and positive feedback you receive off the back of it.
While you can opt to outsource your event management, there is a price tag attached. And although letting an experienced company handle things will help things go smoothly, you'll have to make a judgement on what you expect to get out of the event versus its impact on your budget.
Better Than Advertising?
It’s much easier to sell to someone who has read independent, third-party praise about your business, products, and services. Ask yourself if you’d be more inclined to visit a hotel based on either multiple five star reviews on Trip Advisor, or an advert in a magazine. Advertising can be expensive, and the beauty of Public Relations is that if you opt to do it yourself, there can often be little or no cost involved beyond hard work and time.
Even if you have to pay someone to handle your PR, gaining one piece of coverage per month can be much cheaper and potentially more effective than advertising, and if you’re a start-up company where money is tight, then it could prove a much wiser option.
Advertising goes for the ‘Big Bang’ in stark contrast to PR, which goes for the relatively slow build up, and offers the favourable option of allowing a company to tell a story.
The more likable, authoritative and trustworthy someone is, the more the average person is inclined to do business with them. If people are consistently receiving positive communication through a brand, it can only do good things to their public image and bottom line over the long-term.
While a memorable advertising campaign might stick in your head for a while – brand recognition and positive associations are something that sticks with the average person for much longer.
The Perfect Companion
Good PR is the perfect companion, like a sheep dog to a farmer. What’s a farmer without a sheep dog? He’s just a man running around a field chasing bemused sheep.
The sheep dog helps guide the sheep to where the farmer wants them to go, much like PR helps guide the target audience to your products and services through a variety of means, while simultaneously improving the image and reputation of your company over the long term.
It’s All About You
Do you know any start-ups that have embraced PR? Or anyone who has tripped over the stumbling blocks when it comes to social media? We love to hear your stories, so be sure to leave us a comment below, or fire us a tweet.
And if you're wondering where to start with marketing and PR – we've put together this free guide for small businesses, which breaks down the pros cons and costs of popular marketing and PR activities. Download it for free today:
Images used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.