The world is eagerly anticipating an economic rebound. Businesses that spent the better part of last year focusing on promoting their efforts to deal with Covid are refocusing their efforts on distinguishing themselves from their competitors. And as these business strategies shift, PR strategies need to shift with them.
Startups are no different than any other business in needing effective PR. While startups may understandably be giving PR lower priority as they recover from the devastating economic impacts of last year, it would be a mistake for them to ignore the potential impact PR can have on their recovery.
Effective PR campaigns can lead to customer and investor engagement, which in turn leads to trust and loyalty. Engagement in turn leads to excitement about both the company and its products or services. And, perhaps most importantly for a startup’s current health, excitement leads to investment.
1. You Can Build Trust With Customers
Without customers for products or services, a startup won’t get out of the starting gate. Customers buy from people and companies that they trust. Building a brand is building that trust. Trust leads to investments in the short-term, product sales in the mid-term, and loyal client bases in the long-run. Building trust builds loyalty, and loyal customers become your biggest brand ambassadors. They help drive sales now and well into the future.
Just consider some of today’s most popular products, with phones providing a particularly poignant example. Many major phone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have built fanatical loyalty among their customer bases. As a result, their customers are ready to spend heavily on each new release, even when they still have a perfectly functioning product.
These loyal customer bases also have turned the brand into one of these companies’ most significant assets. Brand recognition and loyalty have traditionally been recognized financially as goodwill. One example of a startup that has benefited highly from this practice of creating loyalty around their products is the Designer Shoe Warehouse, or DSW.
Four years ago, DSW created a new loyalty program where they would email customers reminding them of the number of points they would need to get $10 off on their next order, as well as a snapshot of their interactions with the brand and which deals they were eligible for.
This strategy helped DSW build trust with customers because it showed how the company cared about them to the point that they were essentially helping the customer along to get their rewards.
If you’re a smaller business just starting out, there are steps you can take to help build trust with customers as well. For instance, you can take measures to protect customer financial data by investing in online payment software that comes PCI-DSS certified, which not only shields data from cybercriminals, but can also make the payment process easier and secure for customers as well.
You can then advertise how you take measures like this so everyday consumers will feel more confident buying from you.
Another strategy to build trust with customers is to turn your employees into brand ambassadors. Employees who are convinced that the management is competent will be more invested in the company’s success, and therefore the best candidates for becoming ambassadors in the future.
2. Building a Brand Takes Time
There is never a better time to start than now. Building a brand does not happen overnight – it requires concerted and consistent effort. Just as it takes time and effort to build customer relationships, it also takes time and effort to build and nurture relationships with the press.
Startup executives and officers are invariably incredibly busy; but journalists are busy too. Scheduling time for PR sessions alone can involve significant effort. But the time invested will pay off. Without strong press relationships, you will find it difficult to stay in the public eye.
But if you get to know a few reputable journalists and have them get to know you, those relationships will bear fruit. In today’s world, the best way to reach out to and build relationships with journalists is to rely on email rather than social media, simply because it’s more personable.
Try to schedule a face-to-face meeting, whether it’s done virtually or in-person, if at all possible. If you know of any networking events, whether digital or in-person, where you know journalists you want to work with are attending be sure to attend yourself if at all possible.
3. You Get to Tell Your Story…Before Someone Else Does
It is critical for startups to control what is being said about them as much as possible. The worst position a startup can be in is for others to be in charge of the narrative.
Again, consider some of the great company stories: two guys get together in a garage and start assembling pieces that they begged established companies to just give them. Fast forward a few years and you have one of the most successful companies in the world. But at every step, Steve Jobs worked to control Apple’s public image. And for every Apple, there are many other PR success stories worldwide.
You may not always be successful at fully controlling every facet of your story – every company has its stumbles. But you can be sure that there will be a story for every company. It’s just a question of how good the story is and who is telling it.
Startups, however, must be sure that they are using PR ethically.
Perhaps one of the best and worst examples of effective startup PR is that of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.
Holmes was a master at generating positive press for her health-care startup, despite the lack of a working product. But she skillfully managed PR efforts to build a massive brand for Theranos and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in funding.
Unfortunately, the entire story was fraudulent, and Holmes experienced a calamitous and very public fall. It is important to make sure your story isn’t a fairytale.
Nonetheless, this example displays how critically important it is for a startup to control the narrative. If they don’t, someone else will.
4. You’ll Distance Yourself From the Competition
Be assured that if one startup is questioning whether a PR campaign makes sense, others are as well. It is not at all unusual for startups to wait until just before a product launch, or until they receive a particularly significant regulatory approval, to start generating press.
By this time, competitors may have already made significant inroads with the market, establishing brand loyalty that is difficult to chip away. Integrating PR efforts early in a startup’s life can effectively move a startup ahead of pack.
5. You Will Build Your Network
As with other business development efforts, effective PR campaigns can have much broader effects. All of the people involved in a PR campaign, from outside PR agencies to journalists to social media influencers, can serve as connectors to help grow your network. They can serve as sources for business relationships, for customers, and, importantly, for investment.
But your network is more than an important source of potential revenue and investment; it also provides potential for reinforcing your reputation and brand. Affiliating yourself with strong business partners builds additional trust with customers, investors and the general public.
A highly effective if also overlooked strategy in regards to connecting with business partners to build your network is to make the first interaction with them as personable as you can. Try to meet in-person for the first meeting if possible, but otherwise rely on email (avoid social media, as it’s not quite as personable as email is).
Either way, make sure that your initial message or question is directed directly to the person. Refer to them by their first name, and explain succinctly why you want to work with them.
6. You will maximize your website’s online presence
Any startup must ensure that its website is well-designed and fully functional prior to launching a PR campaign. Non-existent, slow or old-fashioned websites may lead customers to question whether the company is capable of offering valuable products or services. Not only do well-executed websites help strengthen customer trust, but they also offer a number of opportunities for monetization.
It is not unusual that startups will have established a significant online presence before ever considering PR campaigns. Websites, social media accounts, YouTube channels – any or all may have been set up early in the startup’s life. But often, these sites are poorly used or unfinished.
With a specific goal in mind, a company can then make realistic decisions about how to create and run a PR campaign, and what the content and focus of the campaign should be. Perhaps more importantly, the company can assess whether it makes sense to run the campaign from within, or whether the company should enlist the assistance of outside professionals.
If you do decide to enlist the help of a PR agency to maximize your site’s online presence, you can narrow down your options by making a list of specific requests with your initial pitch. For example, make a list of your goals, your timeline for them, and of any other requirements you may have, and then analyze the agency’s response. How they respond, and specifically in regards to how they will go about achieving your goals, should make it easier for you to make the right decision.
There is good reason for businesses of all kinds to be excited about this year, and startups are no exception. But startups must consider cost-effective methods for pushing out PR in 2021. Doing so will help set them apart, provide enhanced visibility, and maximize their chances for success.