The role of PR in the startup era
Our era is characterized by a new economy, in which the business landscape is made up of a growing number of startups that see public relations as a tremendously attractive tool. One of the biggest challenges facing communication professionals is therefore to guide these brands in how to approach this discipline if they are to use it successfully.
It is perhaps a good idea to begin by reviewing what we actually mean by “public relations”. The association of Public Relations and Communication defines it as “the art of synthesizing the essence of an organization, making it compatible with the expectations and interests of those around it, and ensuring that it is perceived accurately”. To do this, public relations fosters mutual knowledge and manages the flow of information between an organization and its public, so that a positive image can be built, managed and maintained. It supposes a planned and deliberate discipline, carried out in a strategic way and sustained over time, so that a business or brand can establish and maintain this understanding, and thus be viewed positively.
This definition includes much that any startup would naturally consider before developing a communication strategy. Yet there are elements of it that might be somewhat shocking, especially in an era where speed usually prevails. There are no shortcuts to building and maintaining a positive image, and correctly managing the reputation of a brand. It is planned work, with a strategic vision, and it must be sustained over time.
For startups, it is also important that they do not view their PR strategy in the same way as "other" brands and businesses do. An established brand that has been implementing a PR strategy for many years can serve as inspiration, but startups cannot expect to achieve the same results right from the start. The startup’s strategy must be designed and developed according to its specific objectives, taking into account all the other parameters that surround the company, because they reflect unavoidable constraints.
Well-established brands have a track record; they have been able to create, build and work their relationships with different audiences, and in this way have generated a level of public knowledge about the brand. When this is not the case, as for a startup, it can be a challenge to win media exposure. Although starting with a blank page is a fantastic opportunity to build a brand and its image from scratch, we must prioritize objectives, constantly ask complicated (and sometimes uncomfortable) questions about the potential interest in each of the stories we want to share, and expect the results to reflect that.
Normally, brand awareness for a startup is either minimal or non-existent, and a brand’s objectives will differ from other companies within the same sector. Priorities usually center on attracting investment, showing the value proposition of the product or service, or attracting talent. And each of these interests requires a different kind of story to be shared, and for the communications strategy to move at a pace tailored to the brand and these objectives. If the ultimate goal is to develop lasting media relationships and achieve mutual understanding, this cannot be forced. The brand must become familiar to the public through a gradual increase in the brand’s share of voice in its sector.
Public relations can be a highly powerful competitive tool; having a clear view of how it works and what can be achieved with the right approach enables brands to build a well-focused strategy and gain tremendous value.