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Can PR really help you grow your business?

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Nick Baines Founder

For early-stage companies, especially those looking to fundraise, prioritisation is everything. Most founders have big visions and even bigger to-do lists, and there can be a temptation to try to do everything at once. But the best entrepreneurs know exactly what to focus on and what to ignore.

The MoSCoW method is a handy acronym to help with this prioritisation. Coined by a software engineer at Oracle, each consonant of the Russian city refers to a category of task: the ‘Must haves’, ‘Should haves, ‘Could haves’, and ‘Won’t haves’. When starting up a business, viewing all activity through this MoSCoW prism can help you work out what to do now, next and never.

Functions like product development and customer happiness are ‘Must haves’ – neglecting your offering or customers is fatal. Public Relations, on the other hand, is usually considered a ‘Should have’ at best, but more often a ‘Could have’. It sits right in the centre of the acronym, somewhere between St Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum.

To many, PR is seen as indulgent; a form of tech ecosystem navel-gazing that does little to actually help your business grow. It’s unpredictable, hard to quantify, and the industry is full of charlatans who promise the world and then disappear when you start asking where the coverage is. As such, founders are often advised to steer well clear.

There is certainly some logic to this. But it’s worth noting that when PR is done right, it becomes gold dust. Having worked with over a hundred startups and scaleups, I’ve seen first-hand how well executed communications strategies can accelerate growth faster than any other marketing channel.

Articles on your business in The New York Times, Guardian, or TechCrunch provide you with a level of credibility that is impossible to secure elsewhere. You can send these pieces to every lead you’ve ever generated, pushing customers over the line. You can entice the best talent to come and work at your company. The links will sit at the top of the search engine rankings, making a great impression on anyone who Googles your brand. You can even put them in your email signature.

PR also acts as a megaphone. During any given week there are 70 million people in 200 countries watching BBC World News. Even just a five minute interview, in which you explain your business and vision to the viewers, can open up entirely new and massive audiences.

And finally, when it comes to securing investment, it is not an over exaggeration to say that PR can be the difference between closing a round or not. Many of my clients have had investors reach out directly after reading profiles in the likes of WIRED, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. Media placements create the all-important feelings of momentum and the fear of missing out. Nothing tells an investor ‘this train is leaving the station with or without you’ faster than a flurry of major news articles.

The question therefore becomes not ‘can PR help my business?’ but ‘how can I do PR well?’. Aside from the obvious suggestion of hiring a talented, reasonably-priced agency (one in particular springs to mind) here are some golden rules to follow:

Be Journalist-centric

Too many founders confuse PR with advertising. They expect long, fawning articles that explain their latest product tweak or mid-level hire. For the credible, international media outlets (the ones read by the tech and investment communities), journalists are dedicated to their readers and nobody else.

It’s a startup’s job to work out what about their business is actually newsworthy, and to filter out the rest. This can be hard for founders who live and breathe their companies and visions.

Some questions to ask would be: are you part of a broader societal trend that would make for an interesting feature? Can you add expert insight to a breaking news story? Do you have data that is in the public interest?

A journalist at Reuters will want insights from you on where your sector is headed, not a press release about how your app has introduced a ‘dark mode’.

By approaching PR with respect for journalists, you will have much more success securing coverage and building long-lasting media relationships.

Be Patient

Plenty of startups activate PR too early. When it goes right, articles can lead to huge waves of traffic, downloads, sales, and investor interest, and businesses need to be prepared for this. They need to be well stocked, bug-free, and have a funnel that can convert and retain customers once the PR tap is turned on.

Pick your moment wisely. Rather than pitching media as soon as you get your first customer, wait until a more recognisable one comes along that can provide extra credibility. You only have one shot to introduce your company to the world’s top tier media. If you go too early you’ll waste that opportunity.

Be Creative

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are six PR people in America for every journalist. Reporters are bombarded with pitches all day every day, often with stories that have nothing to do with their beat. How can a company stand out next to a dozen similar organisations? How can you cut through this noise?

The answer: tell stories. Think creatively about what your brand can do; be it a charity partnership, working with an academic, or tweaking what you do in a newsworthy, inventive way. As nauseating as it might be to hear, brands can be storytellers too. The ones that think laterally make the news.

In short, be respectful, patient, and creative. And once the time is right, just go for it. PR can definitely be a risk, but the unicorns of the future know its limitless potential and are willing to be brave.

If you are unsure about where PR sits within your communications plan, or are looking for help getting your business in front of the right media outlets, the team at Nara are always available for an introductory chat. Contact [email protected]

Runway Recap

  • When PR is done right, it becomes gold dust… so create a strategy and work with professionals to get the most out of your releases
  • Many founders confuse PR with advertising, think logically about whether the news is just exciting to you or the wider audience
  • Reporters are bombarded every day with press releases, don’t waste time by sending out ‘quick pieces’ and instead consider the journalist and their readers