You'll often hear "we need to do some PR" bandied around the office, but the reality is that many people don't actually know what public relations really is, let alone how it works and what it can do for your business. So here's a few tips to help get you started.
First, a definition
If you ask a group of public relations practitioners to explain "public relations", you'll most likely get a different answer each time. This is because PR encompasses a lot of disciplines. PR is more than just crafting a good news story and securing media coverage. Fundamentally, it is about reputation and managing the levers that create your reputation. It's about understanding your various stakeholders and getting your message across in a relevant and timely fashion. It's about understanding which influencers and channels - online and offline - will best help you do this. Bringing all this together in an integrated fashion is the key to a successful PR campaign.
Do I need PR?
Consider where you are on your journey. For an early-stage business there are often more pressing things than PR to focus on, such as product development. Generally speaking, if you haven't got your funding secured there's no point in paying a PR agency. However, it's good to start a PR mindset early on - think about how you want to be perceived - so you're ready to go when the time comes. It's never too early to start building your reputation and getting the word out there.
PR does require specific skills, connections and experience and that's what an agency brings to the table. That said, in the early days while resources are thin, its often good to start things off yourself, for example by managing a social channel (such as Twitter) to build engagement with a like-minded community. Go for it yourself at the start but, when you need to dedicate your time to growing your team and negotiating with investors, hire someone - or an agency - with the right PR skillset.
Done well, social media can be extremely beneficial for building your profile. Find out where your stakeholders are - Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn - and focus on those networks. If you've got someone on your team who is already experienced then get them to do it - a personality (and often a sense of humour) is really important. Another tip is to employ the 80:20 rule - 80% of the content you post should not be solely about you. And don't forget to measure it. Check Google Analytics for sources of web traffic, and your Klout score to find out how influential you are.
Know your audience
Define who your audience is, then put yourself in their shoes. Some common audiences (often referred to as stakeholders in the PR world) are investors, customers, staff, partners and advocates. They all follow different media channels and attend different events. Make sure you use the right channels to reach the right audience.
For startups, your launch is usually the first opportunity for people to hear about your company so you need to get it right. The timing of the launch is in your hands and you may choose to wait until you have built up a database of potential customers or the resources to continue doing PR. Launches can take many forms, including a launch media release, briefings with influencers such as journalists and bloggers, or attending an industry conference or event.
Keep up the good work
Good PR is about getting your messages out consistently and regularly and a period of radio silence immediately after your launch may do more harm than good. Following your launch, you'll want to continue the momentum by proactively issuing your own news, and reacting to the news agenda. Appropriately enough, given the location of this article, good PR is like a snowball effect.
Regularly issuing news about your company's milestones will build your profile with influencers such as media and bloggers, and directly with stakeholders. Examples include completing major funding rounds, customer and partner milestones, key appointments, new product releases and expansions to new geographies. You can also make news through releasing research findings and infographics, conducting stunts, community or charitable work, sponsoring events or putting out a joint release with another company (can be better than shouting alone!).
Adding expert analysis or opinion to an existing news story is another good way of continuing your PR momentum. Contact a journalist who is covering an emerging story related to your industry and offer your perspective. Alternatively, many blogs and publications accept guest editorials from industry experts.
Having a great website, achieving positive media coverage and maintaining a strong social profile is worth nothing if you can't measure it. Treat free tools like Google Analytics as essential and use the insights to fine tune your PR activity - what types of stories or posts generate spikes in traffic and resulted in the most conversions? Measurement is about outcomes rather than outputs and, with so much PR taking place online these days, measuring the success of your campaign isn't difficult. To measure outcomes over the longer term, it's not uncommon for larger firms to regularly track and benchmark stakeholder perceptions about their brand.
Bring in the hired guns
If PR is becoming too time consuming, yet is producing good ROI, it may be the right time to bring in external resource. For startups, freelancers can be a good option because they won't be as expensive as a specialist agency - but obviously their capacity will be limited. The first step is to define what you need. Write a brief about your company, your objectives and your target audiences. Describe exactly what outcomes you are seeking, what you are willing to spend and how you want to work with them. Ask around your network for references.
An agency should respond to your brief with a proposal that demonstrates they understand your business and industry, sets clear and measureable objectives and clearly articulates a strategy for achieving them. Pricing models vary, depending on what you want to achieve. For a one-off, time-bound project with specific deliverables, a fixed fee may be best. For a brief focused on building a position in the market, a longer term engagement based on a fixed monthly fee may work. And once you've signed a contract, remember to put time aside to work closely with your agency for the best results.
To finish, a quote:
"There Is Only One Thing In The World Worse Than Being Talked About, And That Is Not Being Talked About." - Oscar Wilde