PR for startups

PR for Startups: A basic guide to understanding Public Relations

Before you learn how to hack PR for Startups, you need to understand PR, when to hire a PR expert, and how it can benefit your venture. Some people confuse PR with publicity. They are not entirely wrong, neither are they completely right. There is this Oscar Wilde quote that implies ‘bad publicity is better than no publicity’. It goes something like:

“There’s only one thing worse than being talked about and that is – not being talked about.” – Oscar Wilde

It makes a case that a scenario where people are saying bad things about you is better than a scenario where no one is talking about you. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Think of it this way, if no one is talking about you or your brand, it means you don’t matter. And if people are talking about you (even if it’s not good), at least they care enough to spend their precious time on you. At one point in history, this was the guiding light for every PR person. But times change and so do perspectives. PR has evolved in the digital age and it is important for every brand and start-up to focus on public relations. So let’s start with understanding…

What is Public Relations?

Wikipedia defines Public Relations as the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public. A more refined definition would go like: PR is an art of constructive communication that talks about you or your brand; ‘constructive’ being the focus word here. These days, getting talked negatively might be worse for your brand than not being talked about. Take the examples of Pepsi, Dove, McDonald’s who suffered due to bad advertising.

PR is an essential marketing tool these days and it helps you reach out to your audience in a slow but steady way. It has long-term effects on brand recall, as proven over time and again by leading brands like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others. PR uses the power of compelling storytelling using the right channels.

Here’s a case from Zomato which showcases how using influencers can become a powerful PR strategy for your start-up. When Zomato started in 2010, they wanted to establish themselves as the leading authority in restaurant aggregator business. They organised foodie meetups across various cities and invited the top food bloggers to a session over food and gupshups. Food blogging had started to set a trend in online communities and many bloggers had established themselves as a strong voice in the social space. Tapping that section of the audience was a very strategic approach that Zomato used. Once the bloggers shared their experience of the meetup on their blogs and social platforms, it garnered recognizable traction from the users’ own network, which was just about the right kind of publicity a restaurant and food discovery brand would need. This helped Zomato build a lot of credibility and trust value in its initial days.

This shows how building strong public relations can create great awareness for your brand.

The changing face of PR in India

In India, the PR industry has changed manifold in the last few decades. This lateral art of communication has grown from measuring the success of your client with the size of their news coverage to understanding and analyzing online reputations, social chatter and brand perception. The digital disruption has led this industry to think beyond traditional ways of communication.

Who needs PR?

The answer to this imposing question is – everyone. Who doesn’t need a good samaritan to talk about their brand? From startups to big corporates, every business benefits from strong public relations to build its brand value.

With 462.1 million of internet users in India today, of which 196 million are active on social media, public relations has evolved in the way it approaches the people. PR people have had to rethink their strategy and focus on the conversations rather than just communication. Harnessing the power of newer communication channels and integrating paid, earned and owned media, the PR industry of the millennium has come a long way in nurturing a brand.

But ‘why do start-ups particularly need PR?’ you might ask. Well, let’s look at it this way – the bigger players in the market have established themselves to a point of credibility and authority. Look at Amazon, for example. They grew over the simple principle of using the ‘public’ as their public relation strategy. Using the power of customer reviews, Amazon increased and established its credibility as a brand. Fighting through the dotcom boom and social media storm, Amazon survived. However, many new brands died down even before they could mature. And PR has a lot to do with the success or failure of those brands.

Why is PR for startups necessary?

We are living in the age of start-ups, where brands are being born every day and every one of them needs to find their place amidst the clutter. To be able to survive and thrive in such a dynamic economy, brands need proper nurturing, right from the nascent stage, to be able to grow and stand amidst the big players. And that’s where PR for startups comes into play – to provide the right amount of exposure to your budding venture.

To make things simpler, here are the top 6 reasons to hire a PR expert (or agency) for your startup:

1. Building your brand credibility:

Brands of the digital age have grown to become influencers and thought-leaders in their own industry space, unlike their predecessors. Brands like Apple, Google or Coca Cola among thousand others, have reached a point where they can define their TG’s lifestyle choices, a perception of their surrounding, and what they seek. Consumers today seek more knowledge and insights into how you do it, rather than who you are.

With compelling, emotional and authentic story-telling, PR helps your brand reach the right audience, right from the beginning. With quality content, a strategic PR approach helps build the credibility of your brand with your audience even before you are out there.

Here’s a video of how strategic PR helped Paytm become the go-to solution and support a cashless economy:

2. Creating the right content

The entire digital ecosystem runs and breathes on content. As experts in creating stellar communication and powerful content, PR professionals know how to use the right content, in the right place and at the right time. From building your brand’s voice to hearing from your audience, public relations has become indispensable for your business.  

3. PR is more cost-effective

Let’s face it, the initial months (or possibly years) of a business are hard to get through. Till you even manage to break-even, you wouldn’t want to invest a hefty marketing budget on advertising alone. With the right PR expert on your back and the appropriate strategy, you might be able to save as much as three times your advertising costs. And living in a social capital, we understand the importance of an influencer or blogger over a million ads, don’t we?

4. Going beyond brand promotion

Like we said earlier, brands are influencers today. And new age PR goes a step beyond the brand and talks about the face behind the big idea. This works with a two-fold benefit. One, it adds a human element to your human relations strategy, making your audience more connected to your brand, even if it is new. And two, it promotes you as the subject matter expert in your field, with whom your audience can interact for knowledge gathering.

Here’s a classic case of going beyond the product and attending to pressing social needs.

A campaign by antiseptic brand Savlon

5. Decoding your business to the public

The bigger corporations took ages to get themselves heard and most of them perhaps couldn’t even connect at a grass-root level to its audience. Because, they never had a chance. Thanks to digital evolution, startups today have the opportunity to decode their businesses to their audience and simplify it for them through the power of PR. Thus, making them feel more at home than ever.

6. Building your industry network

Most startups start with a smaller manpower. Being able to develop, source, manage and market can already be daunting. With the right PR support, you can easily connect with the industry experts. With their experience and expertise, PR specialists have their way around with networking with the right people, which, needless to say, is the need of the hour.

Before you call your PR

When should I call my PR? A question that bothers many startups. There is no hard and fast rule as to when you should hire your PR agent. However, you might want to ask yourself a few questions, before you ‘dial a PR’.  

  • What are my business objectives?
  • Do I want to build a community before I launch?
  • How will my product/service solve people’s problems?
  • Do I want to be out and about or stay subtle?
  • Where do I want to see my brand in the market?
  • How should I talk to my audience?

Once you have the answers to these questions, it’s time for you to figure out a budget.

Your PR budget

Most startups cringe at the mention of a ‘marketing budget. As you might have already read before, PR is the most cost-effective approach to promoting your brand, at the early stage. There are about 1100 (2016) global agencies, freelancers, consultants and boutique PR firms spread across India.

Depending upon your expectations of output and volume of work, you can choose from either a PR consultant on a retainer basis, which involves paying a fixed sum every month or, you could look at an agency to work with you on a contract. Also, with the freelance network growing in India, you can even consider hiring a freelance PR professional with ample experience, to work on project basis with your company. For everything else, there are facilitators of such expert services like Instataskers which provides a common platform to connect businesses and expert freelancers. Whatever option you choose, it is recommended that you start small and revise your budget with changes in the output and resource availability.

By and large, your PR budget would be calculated based on the headcount or your annual revenue. Typically, a 20% of your G&A (General & administrative expenses) is allocated towards your PR budget. If you follow a headcount model or a 10%, if it’s based on a revenue model.

In Conclusion…

To sum it all up, PR is indispensable for your startup. As hard as it might sound to entrust someone with the reputation and upbringing of your baby, it’s essential, nonetheless, to entrust an expert and make them your partners. Once you and your PR expert share the same vision, then it’s a long but interesting journey ahead. And lest you forget, it’s about the relationship you build with people and how they talk about you. Because, unless people are talking about you, know that you are not doing something right.

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