Updated: Aug 9
Making The Most of Your Public Relations Investment
Done well, public relations (PR) is a significant and important investment for any business, large or small. Getting the most value for your money depends on a lot of factors, including choosing the right PR partner. This is the first post in a series exploring the different roles PR can play for a variety of decision-makers in the corporate world, and how to maximize the impact of a communications campaign.
In recent years, there has been a growing understanding among startup founders and the teams around them (e.g., VCs) that great products and services alone do not make a business successful. You are not just selling a product or services; you are selling a vision and creating a community all at the same time. At its core, public relations is a strategy carefully crafted to generate awareness, build trust and credibility and maintain a positive brand image. Founders cannot afford to ignore the importance of marketing and PR in building a successful business, especially in a world where people expect easy-to-find and easy-to-understand information to be available 24/7.
That said, many founders aren’t getting as much out of their communications campaigns as they could be. Startup founders are often working with limited resources, tight schedules and the heavy weight of responsibility that comes with starting and building a company. All of this contributes to an environment that makes it difficult for founders to pay attention to every detail, but it does not mean they can’t have a successful PR strategy that drives results.
In this article, I will share tips based on my experience working with startups and witnessing firsthand the transformative impact of strategic PR. I hope these insights will help founders navigate the PR landscape and make the most of their investment, unlocking the true potential of their businesses.
The mind of a founder––keeping all of the balls in the air
Founders are in a unique position. They alone are the keepers of their vision and goals for the company, so they need to think about multiple things at once. Growth is obviously at the top of mind, but founders must also balance the needs of employees, customers and investors. Each separate audience has to buy into the core values and future mission of the company.
A smart communications strategy has to encapsulate all of this into one seamless package. So, if founders want to utilize PR to achieve sustainable growth, they need to articulate specific goals to the communications team that cover the full vision.
PR can support many different facets of building a company (some of which may not get as much attention as they deserve):
Attract top talent
Successful founders have to surround themselves with the best possible circle of people for their idea to really get off the ground. Positive press, awards and glowing employee reviews can all be part of a PR strategy to recruit the right team.
Educate your audience (and their audience)
People aren’t looking for a solution to a problem they don’t know exists. Articles placed with media channels that your audience turns to for information can both educate on the problem (e.g., inefficient appointment scheduling) and highlight a solution that could positively impact their lives.
Increase brand awareness
While there is disagreement over exactly how many touch points a customer needs or which content strategy is best, marketers agree that a buyer’s journey is incredibly complex. That is why it’s vital to integrate PR (strategy + tactics) so individuals find you at the beginning, middle and end of their search.
Media coverage, positive stories, and expert positioning showcase a company's expertise and thought leadership. Credibility builds trust with customers, investors, and partners, leading to increased brand loyalty, stronger relationships, and a competitive advantage in the market.
It’s one thing to walk into an investor meeting with market research and revenue projections in hand, but having the third-party validation that comes from in-depth and positive media coverage adds another layer of validity to your presentation. PR helps showcase your company's achievements, potential, market positioning and visibility.
Expert-In-Chief––getting your knowledge to the press
Effective PR comes at a cost, but not simply a monetary one. The more committed you are to the PR process, the better the odds of success. Founders who want to maximize their investment in a PR strategy have to be willing to take on a new role: spokesperson.
Not all founders are comfortable in the spotlight, but in order to score high-profile media coverage, you have to put some effort into learning how to talk to the press. This might come in the form of spending time in media coaching or making yourself available for interviews on short notice. The media operate on a different schedule than everyone else. Big publications often have a very short lead time, meaning we have to do a quick turnaround to make it into the story. It may not always work out, but the more flexible you can be with giving reporters 20-30 minutes of your time, the better your ROI will be in terms of the number of articles you are featured in.
Effort may also come in the form of making yourself available directly to the PR team. Your communications partners can never be as much of an expert on your business as you are. Our expertise lies in getting your story in front of as many eyes as possible, while your expertise is in your own industry. Consider this Total Retail article in which Archie Black, CEO of SPS Commerce, offers insights around retail fulfillment strategies. Through conversations and brainstorms, the PR team gathered insights from the company’s experts, like Archie, and offered them to relevant media outlets/reporters. The experts drive the insights because they know their industry. The PR team helps hone them and identify which are most newsworthy, because they sit at the intersection of your industry and the media.
Great PR doesn’t just happen. You have to spend the time to download your thoughts, ideas and the intricacies of your job to the team, so that we can package it for the media in a way that makes sense to the general public.
It isn’t a one-and-done meeting, either. As trends pop up and your business evolves, regular brainstorm sessions are essential to keep the PR messaging fresh. (Here’s a good example of that, when Anthony Thrasher, senior director of product management at SPS Commerce, weighed in on how the I-95 collapse would impact the supply chain.)
Reducing roadblocks––PR as a partner, not a vendor
Limiting the access of your PR team to a single individual or even one department is a mistake. Communication has to be an integral part of your business, even if you work with an outside contractor.
Your PR team needs to have direct access to you as a founder, not through a gatekeeper in the marketing department. They need to bounce ideas off of you and get a hold of you in those moments where a comment is needed now, not in two days or a week.
Founders typically put communications and PR in one small box and then check it off, without thinking about the fact that it can touch every area of the business. The PR team needs to immerse themselves in the company’s culture, see innovations first hand, and feel comfortable asking for more information or clarification on something the media might be interested in. The fast-paced nature of startups demands agile PR strategies that can swiftly adapt to evolving market trends and opportunities. Unlimited access allows the PR team to quickly obtain feedback and pivot when necessary, ensuring that your startup stays ahead of the competition. By fostering an open and collaborative environment, startups can maximize their PR efforts and build a robust brand presence.
The more involved the PR team is with every facet of the business, the less involved you as a founder actually have to be in day-to-day messaging questions. They will still have a direct line to you, but if communications pros can go to the manufacturing floor or the sales team or the developers for the answers they need, they can bypass you entirely. One of my most effective PR engagements came from a client who went out of their way to add my team to their internal Slack channel, giving us a perfect view of the inner workings of the company. With that kind of unfettered access, your outreach strategy becomes a well-oiled machine, and you as a founder can spend less time micromanaging the process.
I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to view the PR team as ongoing partners in your success. PR is a long-term game, not just a cosmetic touch up to your reputation. When clients value PR, it shows, and it increases ROI dramatically.
There is no doubt that founders have a lot to juggle, and their time is a valuable resource. However, it is important to really understand what a successful communications strategy looks like for your business, and that you embrace your role within that.
Remember, your PR team wants to add value to your company. But they can’t do their job without a commitment from you to be a solid spokesperson and thought leader and give them the time and access they need.
In essence, maximizing your PR investment requires you to recognize the strategic power of PR, embrace your role as storyteller, and collaborate seamlessly. That is how you harness the true potential of PR to leave a lasting impact in the hearts and minds of your customers and stakeholders.