Why PR Is Critical For Your Startup's Success

While some argue that hiring a public relations team shouldn't be at the top of a startup's to-do list, these PR mavens say hiring such a team is more important than you think.

Editor's Note: This article is in response to the April 11, 2014 piece, "Why Your Startup Shouldn't Hire A PR Firm."

Maybe you're an entrepreneur who just secured your first significant round of funding. Or perhaps you've just leveraged your own savings to fund your company. No matter what your story is, you've undoubtedly put a lot on the line to make your idea come to life.

As a businessperson on a limited budget, it's crucial to identify the essentials. An effective PR team is as vital to the growth of your business as the engineer who handles your back-end programming. Here's why:

1. Your Brand Messaging Largely Decides Whether Your Product Will Succeed

Successful branding does not come easily, nor is it an intuitive process. Startups that work with an excellent PR team from the beginning set themselves up for success. There's a reason why venture capital firms tend to use a dedicated PR firm: they know it's a worthwhile investment.

2. Establishing Brand Voice Takes More Work Than You Think And More Time Than You Have

If you work for a startup, you already have a to-do list as long as the intro from Star Wars. Writing press releases and pitches may seem easy at first glance, but PR professionals use precise language, phrasing, and sentence construction to make sure reporters pay attention and communicate the right things to the public. This takes up a lot of time, and you haven't any to spare.

3. You Know Your Market, But PR Firms Become Your Market

You're probably already familiar with your target demographic, but getting them familiar with you takes a lot of manpower and creativity. PR firms know that empathy is key to crafting a message, and are able to effectively cultivate brand love because they truly understand your customers.

4. If You Don't Actively Tell Your Story, Someone Else Will Tell It For You

Whether or not your startup story is mundane, magical, or entirely made up, the media will craft its own narrative for your company if you don't persistently reiterate who you are. You do this in part through your product (which, for PR's sake, we hope is awesome). But your product isn't enough to get the story to stick. PR firms drive your message to the media, so that they represent you in a way that attracts consumers.

5. Our Creativity Is Boundless

PR strategy is contingent on approaching objectives differently from the norm. A simple press release, while necessary, is not going to catapult you to success. Coupling that press release with a roll-out strategy across five different platforms, with timing contingent on audience reach? That's where PR professionals truly shine.

You've developed an incredible product--you owe it to yourself and your investors to give your company the best shot possible.

Find PR professionals who share your passion and excitement, and they will stop at nothing to make the world love your brand.

--Sheena Tahilramani and Denise Gitsham are co-founders of 7 Second Strategies, a public affairs agency based in Southern California. The firm serves as the exclusive PR sponsor of San Diego Startup Week.

[Image: Flickr user Nick Walker]

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11 Comments

  • Bob Zeitlinger

    The key, obviously, is getting the right PR firm. I was recently asked to comment on "signs of a bad PR firm." Here's a quick rundown:

    1. The agency people who were used to win your account are never seen or heard from again once the account kicks into gear.
    2. The agency says “don’t expect results for the first month or two as we ramp up.”
    3. The agency never calls you; it’s always you calling them. (In those quiet moments, are they really working on your account?
    4. The agency agrees and carries out all your ideas. Sounds weird, right? But think about it this way: you don’t want a bunch of people who are merely worker bees.
  • This is an extremely dangerous one "4. If You Don't Actively Tell Your Story, Someone Else Will Tell It For You" This is very true and serious. Media and the press will somehow are the chimera(monster,siren, and wizard) that can and will turn on you. Slowly!!! PR firms are heaven sent you want the acronym P.E.P to be their "language" of how they deal with "disaster" and "damage control" when it comes to sensitive topics...for adults with young child(ren) and the like(e.g., AirBnB).

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  • Sheena Tahilramani

    Jacqueline: Thanks for your support! We've worked hard to understand the startup space and love working with startups and helping tell their stories. Go #TBFGS10KSB LA cohort!

  • People (especially investors) are neurologically wired to connect with "stories" rather than understand facts. Eight months in our startup, we are learning the incredible importance of telling a story -- rather than spewing facts. This is ironic given that our company, Englue, builds artificial intelligence applications that are entirely incapable of emotions.

    Yes, it's hard for a startup to part with precious cash for a good PR firm. And yes, finding a good PR firm is fantastically difficult. This article provides insights on the questions entrepreneurs must ask of themselves and potential PR firms before deciding to hire:

    1. What's my story? Can an eight-year old understand it?
    2. Why is my story emotionally compelling?
    3. What's my three-week, three-month, and three year goals for how my story will evolve?
    4. Does the PR firm "get it"? That is, do they feel the story? (or do they just want a retainer)
    5. Does the PR firm bring new insights on how to convey it and spread it?
  • Sheena Tahilramani

    I'm channeling Denise Gitsham when I say...On point Olin! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • A small business needs PR because it needs help building relationships with key audience groups.

    Your messaging helps define your brand [your brand is what others say about you when you're not in the room, not what you tell them it is].

    'PR firms become your market'. What nonsense!

    Lyndon Founder, THINK DIFFERENT [LY] http://thinkdifferently.ca

  • Sheena Tahilramani

    Lyndon,

    Thanks for your comment. We're going to side with Bill Gates on this one...“If I was down to my last dollar I would spend it on PR."

    Appreciate you reading the piece!

    Team 7SS

  • Hi Team 7SS,

    I don't disagree with you and Bill Gates - although there is no proof that I've seen that he actually said that... but why let a good sound bite get in the way of the truth? - but what you describe is publicity, not public relations.

    Public relations is about building mutually beneficial relationships with a variety of audiences - and the media is just one of them. [Don't believe me? The, it's what the PRSA says too]. By directing everything via a single channel you potentially miss out on opportunities and run the risk of having the most important thing an early stage business needs to do at the mercy of another filter.

    I agree with Robert that a founder is the best person to talk with a business' audiences. I just think that part of the process is understanding who the key people are, rather than calling a list of 100 journalists hoping that some of them will bite.

    Best wishes,

    Lyndon

  • Sheena Tahilramani

    Lyndon,

    Publicity = getting ink. PR = crafting a story, messaging, spreading the word, and creating strategic partnerships among other things. We touch briefly on multiple points in this piece pertaining to both PR and publicity. And, as all PR professionals know, good publicity should be part of an overall PR strategy.

    Bottom line is that if you don't have good PR, there is no point trying to garner good publicity. Startup founders might know the most about their technology or business but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are the best person to craft their story or focus on creating the strategic partnerships needed to create buzz for their idea or company.

    This piece outlines 5 reasons that we feel PR (and publicity provided you have good PR) is an important investment for a startup company. We're sure there are way more than 5 reasons that startups should invest in PR and we welcome you to share your top 5 here if you choose to!

    Best, Team 7SS