Known or unknown – which do you prefer? But…is your story worth telling?
You exist. So what?
What is Public relations? A question I’m asked frequently. In short – PR is the means in which you tell your “story” and build an emotional connection between your product or platform, and the end user; via the media.
More formally, and according to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the UK, “Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you….
It is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its public”.
But why is it necessary to build a reputation? As you’re starting out, in the earliest days of a company – you need to ensure you develop a strong narrative and secure strategic press coverage in order to get your name out there; strategically. For example, you may need to hire top talent.
You can use PR and storytelling to make your company, and your executive team, an attractive proposition for potential new hires. You need to broker a deal with a government agency in order to scale?
Well…why not have them read about you first in targeted media outlets, so that when you approach them, they have hopefully already heard of your company and you don’t have to start the conversation from scratch.
An even better scenario is to use the press to generate inbound enquiries – have them come to you.
Importantly, you need to be able to pass the “So What” question; this is what any good journalist will ask about your company upon first hearing about what you do.
Yes, you exist – but so do other companies. Thousands. Literally. Why should they care enough about you to cover you? Why do you stand out? Why are you unique? Why do you deserve column inches or air time?
The “So What” narrative can often be a tricky hurdle for start-ups to tackle, and I will tell you why. When you start a company, and I speak from personal experience, everything is important; Everything.
From securing office space, to deciding on a logo, to making your first hire, to making sure you have internet sorted, to making the first few months’ payroll. These are important to you.
These are newsworthy to you and your business. But they are not generally of interest to media outlets.
However, in the midst of start-up fatigue – 80+ hour weeks and extreme levels of mental and physical exhaustion as you battle to get your company off the ground, it is difficult for many to differentiate between internal versus external “news events”.
Part of what’s required is to be able to look from within, often with the help of external resources (don’t just ask your immediate circle – those who love you will often struggle to be constructively critical).
You need outsiders to probe what you’re doing, your business model, your growth strategy, as well as what makes you unique – and at this stage, you will start to develop your story and can start planning for a proactive communications campaign – be it on social media, blogging, in the press or even getting out to events.
Your digital footprint will open doors
Never forget the power of Google; very few people agree to a meeting without doing their own personal due diligence on you. Decision makers and leaders are time poor, so they need to be persuaded if you are going to take up their valuable time.
If you email someone and ask them for a meeting to discuss your business, chances are they will type your name and your company into Google to try and gauge whether or not they should speak to you and why such a meeting will be beneficial to them.
They will also check out your LinkedIn and your social handles – so make sure there’s consistency across the board and your digital footprint faithfully reflects you and your company.
You should always think about how PR and storytelling will build your digital footprint and turn queries or cold calls into meetings and subsequent deals.
And whilst your social footprint, Twitter/Instagram/LinkedIn, is your attempt to represent yourself, having a third party cover you, such as a news platform or blog, in whatever format, is a far more compelling means of persuasion than simply you alone advocating for yourself.
There’s one thing YOU saying how great or innovative your company is, but it’s another thing for a knowledgeable journalist, working for a reputable news outlet, to endorse what you are doing.
For those looking to attract investment, building your brand and ensuring potential investors can understand your product and your business model, is another great use-case for embarking on a Public Relations push.
Investors on the continent are fully focussed on deal flow; they have money to invest, and they are competing with one another to secure the best deals with the most exciting start-ups.
They need to hear about you, before they can invest in you. And yes, whilst you may have some connections with VCs in your network already, it certainly doesn’t hurt to spread your net farther afield, in a bid to garner interest from more investors.
Of course, none of the above – no communications strategy – is going to affect actual change for your company, unless you and your business are in a good place.
By this, I mean you need to make sure you can execute (as a business) on whatever you are offering as part of your proactive storytelling and communications, before you start.
Why? Because the PR is just the beginning; that is the brand recognition, profile raising and (potential) lead generation. It helps to drive interest and traffic to you, but to sign those deals and ensure you win big, it’s essential that operationally, you can execute.
If not, you may be on the receiving end of some negative PR, which requires a different approach to reputation management. It only takes a couple of people who are on the receiving end of substandard service, to head on to social media and start denigrating your brand.
So yes, PR is a useful tool to get your name out there and to engage with a variety of audiences, but before you start down this route, ensure your business is in a robust state.
Jessica Hope is the Founder of Wimbart, a London-based Public Relations agency focused on Africa and emerging markets. WIth over 13 years experience in communications, Jessica and her team have crafted strategic, impactful media campaigns and communications for both seed-stage and venture-backed start-ups, as well as entrepreneurs and public bodies, for over four years.