4 essential truths for startup leaders
Author: Crystal Clarity, s2s Public Relations COO
“What PR approach will drive the greatest value for your startup?”
It’s an important question to ask, especially when those asking lead lean startups with limited resources.
Let’s start by defining public relations: PR is all about building and maintaining awareness and a positive reputation for a company and its leadership, especially among the company’s key audiences and stakeholders.
The kicker is that word “awareness.” For those new to the world of PR, it’s a rather opaque metric to conceptualize. Instead of telling you to “just trust the process,” let’s shed some light on four essential truths about the PR journey and how they facilitate positive outcomes for startup leaders and their companies:
PR strategy is a marathon effort — with sprints along the way.
When we at s2s PR place a client in a top-tier news outlet, we celebrate alongside them. But most times, these wins don’t happen overnight or with a single pitch; these ‘big wins’ are more often the culmination of a lot of smaller, yet really important wins along the way. For example, when a journalist at a high-value publication or outlet opens or forwards our email or responds to our pitch to decline the opportunity, that’s a win, too.
Because it means they took notice, even if only for a few moments, and they’re more likely to remember the company’s name or technology next time we pitch them.
After all, the key word in public relations is “relations” as in relationships. PR is often a long game, so while a pitch might not lead to a story right away, we often see these opportunities boomerang back weeks or even months later.
Real life client win: We just heard back from a journalist requesting an interview that we pitched in 2021. She declined to cover the story at that time, but is now working on a new story and remembered the pitch and position of our client. She wants to speak with our client now. That’s how the wild world of media relations often works!
The startup world isn’t static. Your PR strategy shouldn’t be either.
We operate in a unique space here at s2s. The startup ecosystem is far more dynamic and evolving than larger, more established companies. Not only are we often tasked with crafting and conveying impactful stories about technologies the world has yet to see; we also work to inspire meaningful action from a very diverse range of audiences – investors, potential employees, partners, customers, journalists – who each bring their own set of unique needs, perception issues, goals and reasons for engaging with the client.
We also recognize that carving out a PR budget is a big deal for a startup, especially when launching PR for the first time. That’s why understanding each startup’s unique goals and timeline is essential to crafting a customized PR strategy that delivers positive return on investment.
At s2s, we build the majority of our client strategies around three key pillars: media relations (what most people think of when they think of traditional PR), thought leadership and profile building/community engagement. There are other aspects of PR, including reputation management (sometimes called crisis communications) and internal communications, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on these three for now.
Here’s a look at just a few of the core strategies that often nest under each pillar:
- Tracking media trends and relevant news
- Cultivating journalist relationships
- Proactively pitching and sharing company announcements
- Pursuing speaking opportunities at events and conferences
- Writing and publishing articles sharing expertise
Profile Building & Community Engagement
- Crafting content and engaging on social media
- Applying for awards
- Arranging meetings with industry analysts
- Writing and distributing newsletters
This covers many, but far from all of the many strategies that PR professionals leverage to generate positive awareness for clients. After working with more than 50 startups of all sizes over the past several years, we’ve seen firsthand how powerful the right combination of tactics can be, especially when integrating across pillars.
Bigger [media coverage] isn’t always better.
When we start out with a new client, one of our first to-do’s is to develop a list of target media outlets. Oftentimes (and understandably!) our clients will mention a top-tier publication like the New York Times, as an ideal target. While landing a story in the NYT is a big deal, no doubt, developing and executing a strategy to earn coverage in an outlet of this caliber can take months, or even longer—and even then, it doesn’t always lead to the kind of outcomes our clients need or want most. Most often, this is because the final story or the audience demographics aren’t the best fit.
On the flip side, industry-focused publications and podcasts often drive increased awareness within highly influential audiences. They are a strong part of our strategic mix in order to build awareness among an ideal audience, increase validation, and connect potential partners and investors with our clients’ story and unique value. A significant additional benefit is that these placements provide validation for journalists at top-tier publications (think NYT again) as they vet potential startups to cover.
While the reach of some of these niche media outlets is often smaller, they’re typically more concentrated on a specific audience and also create excellent opportunities for our clients to practice and hone their message and delivery in advance of larger-reach media opportunities.
PR is often about connecting the dots
Real life client win: We recently placed a client as a keynote speaker at a large medical device conference where many target partners and customers will be. He’s thrilled. How’d we do it? It started by placing him on a podcast that covers the industry. The podcast host is also editor of an influential publication in the space, and an organizer for the conference. Our client’s podcast appearance drove awareness with industry stakeholders, created great content to share on social channels and, several months later, led to a keynote.
As we saw with the client above, investing in seemingly smaller-value opportunities often leads to outsized returns over the long-term. And by braiding the three pillars together, we’re able to wring out far more value than if each pillar stayed on a separate track.
The synergistic, integrated and iterative nature of PR is where the real magic happens. Similar to committing to a daily running regimen to prepare for a marathon, we reap the many benefits of a longer-term strategy while building strength, stamina and those feel-good endorphins along the way.
If we can be of help as you consider your next PR move, or if you’re considering whether it’s time to begin public relations for your startup, feel free to reach out. We’re here to lace up our running shoes and run the marathon with you, each step of the way.