Public relations (PR) is a form of marketing that is accessible to startups. PR tactics for startups often involve hiring a PR firm to tap into specialized expertise. The American Marketing Association defines public relations as:
That form of communication management that seeks to make use of publicity and other nonpaid forms of promotion and information to influence the feelings, opinions, or beliefs about the company, its products or services, or about the value of the product or service or the activities of the organization to buyers, prospects, or other stakeholders.
Public relations differs from other marketing methods in that it is earned, not paid, promotion and coverage. (In comparison, an example of paid promotion is to buy an ad.) PR tactics for startups and other bigger companies focus on spurring people to talk about the product or company by promoting newsworthy editorial or social content, taking measures to ensure that the tenor of the public conversation stays positive.
For startups following Steve Blank’s Customer Development Model, public relations activities can happen at any stage, but they should begin to increase in volume at the customer creation stage. When you are ready to position your company and product and are preparing to scale your customer acquisition, it is time to think about how PR tactics can help aid your positioning efforts. Many startups decide at this stage to engage the expertise of a public relations firm to leverage their expertise in building media relations and reaching certain influential audiences.
For startups, the one aim of public relations is to have people with high credibility, such as industry thought leaders or members of the press, talk favourably about your product or company. The idea is that this word-of-mouth marketing will then spread and help you reach and win over potential customers. A public relations firm may work directly with these types of influencers or the firm may try to create a more general “buzz,” with the intent of catching their attention, or both.
Strategically, a PR firm provides your startup with specialized talent in marketing communications, specifically media relations and/or government relations. PR teams have the skills to help you best communicate with and through the media.
For some startups, it may be of interest that certain PR firms have developed special expertise for supporting crowdfunding campaigns. You may find that you choose such a firm for help with a particular crowdfunding campaign and that later you engage another firm for other PR needs.
Depending on your needs, make sure you find a public relations firm that is knowledgeable about your startup’s market or adjacent ones. Assess its track record and expertise with strategic positioning and communications. A good PR firm will have skills that include positioning, articulating your message, conducting market research and refining your audience—in addition to getting media and industry influencers to communicate your message. Ask the firm to show you what metrics they will use to measure the success of their work for you and to introduce you to the individuals who will work on your account. Make sure you are satisfied with what you learn.
Public relations firms may use the following PR tactics for startups and their products:
Blank, S.G. (2005). The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Self-published: Cafepress.com.
Public relations. (2014). In American Marketing Association Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.ama.org/resources/Pages/Dictionary.aspx?dLetter=P
Wynne, R. (2013, April 10). What Does A Public Relations Agency Do? Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwynne/2013/04/10/what-does-a-public-relations-agency-do/