I am a strong advocate for my founders to allocate a PR budget to get utilized only in the last 9 months of their seed round budget. I pick the last 9 months because, by the time they hit the market for fundraising, i.e., 4-6 months before running out of capital, they would have a strong PR presence helping them in their fundraising efforts. There is one caveat to this expectation.
The PR budget should get utilized if (and only if) things are going well within the startup. Using the PR tool prematurely or without real traction or a business model to back it up, could be a disaster for the startup and burn a massive hole in your P&L statement without much to show for the expense.
Therefore, one should use the PR tool with cautious enthusiasm.
Here are my top 5 tips for early-stage founders to maintain effective PR:
- Horses for courses – use the channel based on the objective you want to achieve
Every founder dreams of getting featured on the front page of Economic Times or getting a TechCrunch story. However, not every start-up is meant to get featured in these iconic publications. Moreso, getting into these publications may give you an ego boost, but it may not achieve your startup’s strategic goals, for which you’ve leveraged PR in the first place.
- Amplify business milestones to win investors; Amplify investment milestones to win customers
Founders must know that disseminating news of their fundraising to other investors is useless. New investors would not want to speak to you until you are ready for a new round of funds, and since you just raised one, why should they bother?
Besides, establishing your position in a space with investor backing creates credibility that is best utilized for getting new customers and partnerships or winning those customers that were on the fence about your survivability. Therefore, I suggest that founders heavily invest in accurately profiling their startups when disseminating their funding news.
On the flip side, an excellent way to start or build momentum for your fundraise is to reveal business milestones achieved during your roadshows. These achievements will bolster your startup’s position in its respective sector and classify you as a leader or a viable challenger.
In a nutshell, it makes sense to be counter-intuitive when making press announcements.
- Use PR agencies for execution, hire internally for ideation
I was a strong advocate for PR agencies until I realized that their transactional coverage-delivery model does not work for start-ups like mine or the ones I invest in. Nonetheless, PR agencies are excellent at executing releases, press conferences and amplifying your news, but they cannot provide personalized attention to each client’s voice – like I would have wanted them to. There is no point in securing truckloads of coverage clips if it doesn’t align with your central messaging or reach the desired TG.
Therefore, it is best to hire a full-time PR associate with 3-4 years of working experience within PR agencies. These candidates must have the ability to take your start-up story to create a compelling message with a unique positioning for your company. These individuals would also have enough friends in the journalism world who could listen to their pitch and give you a chance to tell your story.
Unfortunately, the PR agency model does not allow personalized care and attention when your account manager handles 4-5 clients, each growing fast and screaming out to get heard!
- PR must be a continuous activity
In a day and age where 5 startups are getting funded every day and tens of hundreds getting started, you cannot look at PR as a one-time activity. It takes 3-6 months of effort to get you considered as part of an industry and get respected publications to begin referencing or writing about your company in industry/trend stories.
Also, journalists like to write about hot topics; therefore, if you were someone who was spoken about or referenced to more than 3-6 months ago; then you are probably running cold from a media standpoint and probably best to be avoided (from the perspective of the journalist).
Now you must work doubly as hard to regain the top-of-mind recall in the media sphere instead of just keeping yourself mentioned regularly even in between your funding rounds.
- Create and maintain thought leadership in your category
Investors want to back category winning startups; therefore, they look for founders who are the thought leaders of their space. Getting the media to recognise you as a thought leader takes time and concerted efforts.
You will need to write blogs, get on podcasts, and keep a live conversation of your thoughts on Twitter and LinkedIn. You must be original in your thoughts and genuine in sharing information and data. It takes effort, but the results can be fantastic for you and your startup!
While PR is a potent tool for fundraising, it can also be a strong catalyst for building your brand’s reputation, growing your organic reach, and reducing your CAC. Therefore, PR might feel like you are tooting your own horn. But with pure intent and a clear communications objective, it can be the most powerful tool in your arsenal to grow your business with customers or new funds!