Is public relations really a waste of money? Some people in the startup world seem to think so, making the distrust of public relations especially heightened. With tight budgets and even tighter resources, every investment needs to pay off fast. Patience is not a virtue in this fast paced world and several have questioned the ROI of the discipline.
I recently joined PAN Communications after working in-house at a very successful startup. As someone who has worked with startups in both in-house and agencies roles for nearly a decade, I have seen public relations make a difference in almost all instances – if not immediately, definitely in the long run. Strategic public relations efforts, with clear objectives that are executed flawlessly, have the potential to move the needle big time. Here are three observations based on my experience on why public relations does make a difference:
- Serving as a Reality Check
Most employees at startups have a contagious enthusiasm and strong belief in their products or services. They often think everything their company does is BIG and needs to be shouted out from the rooftops. This excitement makes working with startups immensely enjoyable but often blinds them on what is truly newsworthy enough to capture the attention of the media. Here’s where training in the discipline of public relations can help. A public relations firm or in-house communications manager can serve as a reality check, guiding startups on what should be communicated to the press to get noticed. This way startups can be focused and spend their limited time and resources touting the right stories and announcements in order to secure headlines.
Early in my career, I remember working with a technology startup which, as a last-ditch effort, came to my agency for a product launch. The company had made a few attempts announcing the new product, but they had fallen on deaf ears. By fine-tuning its messaging and highlighting features we knew would resonate with media, the product launch was a success and the startup got noticed for their innovation.
- Dedicated Efforts Lead to Results
Nowadays, the expectation is to get more done with less and this is especially true in the startup world. Employees wear several hats and are required to take on a variety of roles within the organization. Time and again, I have seen communications’ responsibilities tacked onto other job duties. Like every aspect of business, a focused, consistent effort leads to results. Public relations is no different. If it’s the last thing on someone’s to-do-list, it’s unlikely to generate any momentum. And that triggers aa negative feedback loop where lack of effort leads to lack of results. Having a dedicated public relations resource within the organization or working with a public relations firm will helps startups build that much needed momentum with the press. All of a sudden they are no longer reaching out to media to tell their story. Instead, the media come knocking on their door for commentary.
Executives at one of the startups I worked with recently cautiously presented to their board of directors a proposition to hire my agency. Everyone was very concerned about ROI and how they were going to justify costs. By doing their research and selecting the right agency for their needs at a time when their product pipeline was robust, my agency was able to jump right in and secure coverage in top-tier outlets including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and CNBC that not only increased brand visibility but also led to a several direct sales leads.
- Enhancing a Cross-Functional Team
One of the things I really enjoyed during my time in-house was working cross-functionally with people of different backgrounds and expertise. When a variety of vantage points come together to solve a problem, there is potential for great ideas to be born. Often times public relations doesn’t have a seat at the table in the startup world. Product launches, campaigns and even general ideation can benefit from the public relations perspective. With a keen eye toward communication strategies, an in-house resource or agency can point out pitfalls or highlight missed opportunities.
During a brainstorm while in-house at an international consumer brand, an idea gingerly thrown out by the public relations team took on a life of its own and was later turned into a revenue generating product for the company.
As you can see from my experience, I hold the view that is contrary to popular belief that startups can benefit from strategic public relations that are well executed.