Why your startup needs public relations

Plunging into the fast-paced, high-risk world of startups and entrepreneurship is exhilarating and nerve-racking — and it takes more than guts and grit to make it and be the next big thing. If you’re equipped with a groundbreaking idea and your product’s ready to hit the market, odds are you’re doing everything to spread the word: telling everyone you see about your startup, and making your rounds in networking circles to meet fellow entrepreneurs, potential clients, and scooping up an investor or two along the way.

What many startups fail to recognise at this stage is how much of a game changer public relations (PR) can be. PR is particularly crucial and most effective when a startup has just launched, and smart PR can directly impact your brand perception, company revenue and investor opportunities.

Some entrepreneurs we meet don’t see the need for PR. They believe a good idea will sell itself through word-of-mouth and personal networks. That’s definitely important, but it’s hardly enough. Public relations — and media coverage in particular — will provide you with a far wider reach than you can imagine and act as a launch pad for your big idea. Here’s why PR should be taken seriously, whether you take a stab at it on your own or get some help from industry experts.

1. Introduce your brand to the public
Media coverage in key news outlets will introduce your brand to the public. In Singapore, think The Straits TimesTODAYThe Business TimesChannel NewsAsia and other tech sites like e27, ZDNet Asia and more that are the perfect gateways to public recognition. How often have you read about a new company while flipping the newspapers or browsing news sites? Your startup could be recognised in the same way.

Public relations is essentially brand outreach to the public and your stakeholders through various media channels. Yes, you’ll still want to rely on word-of-mouth, and yes, social media should be an important element of your PR campaign, but what happens when these are combined with media coverage? Brand recognition increases by leaps and bounds.

2. Be searchable
Have you ever Googled a company, brand or product, only to find it’s not a top hit, and then give up digging for more information? With news features, potential clients searching for you will find your brand across a slew of media coverage, rather than a lonely link low on Google search.

For your startup to do well, you’ll want to build on your search ranking through search engine optimisation (SEO) to help people easily find your brand online. SEO isn’t a quick fix and takes concerted effort. Media coverage is a great way to boost your SEO, particularly online news articles that link back to your website, weaving strong backlinks. You should also ensure you have SEO best practices in place early on – here are some tips from Mutant.

3. Gain credibility
Consumers today are smart and informed. Before your potential clients buy your products or use your services, they’re researching your brand — they’ll read reviews and look into your online presence before making a purchasing decision. News coverage in reputable news sites and publications will give much-needed credibility to your services and products, particularly when you’re relatively unknown.

If journalists buy into what you’re offering, their favourable reviews will be the best endorsements. Many of them are influential, with loyal readers who treat their words as gospel truth. And news articles that quote your product users who speak to its awesomeness will add even more credibility.

4. Investors see you
Every startup needs funding — and PR will increase your chances at striking the VC lottery. Venture capitalists, government entities and rich folks are on the lookout for investment opportunities in the news. Positive coverage highlighting your business proposition and growth potential is bound to turn a few heads.

A startup we recently helped to launch in Singapore is an entrepreneur’s dream come true. Combining an excellent product with dedicated PR pushes, we secured news coverage in national newspapers The Straits Times and TODAY, popular news sites such as e27 and Yahoo! Singapore News and more, which led to calls from a major government research agency keen to invest in the app and a major client who wanted to roll out the service at scale. When you hit the media that matter, you’re going to get noticed.

5. Become a thought leader
The establishment of trusted brands goes beyond good products and services — the best ones establish themselves as a thought leader and knowledge expert in the field. As a first step, you should craft opinion pieces for targeted media and land your commentary in industry news articles. When your brand starts to get recognised, you could speak at industry events to share your insights with stakeholders.

Building thought leadership is a gradual process, and you’ll want to start working on it soon as possible. If I’m an investor or consumer looking to invest my hard-earned money in a startup and its services, I’m far more likely to trust a startup with a business leader who’s knowledgeable, rather than any other brand who’s merely jumping on the startup bandwagon for the ride.

6. Receive valuable feedback from journalists

Many journalists, particularly those focussing on technology and startups, are knowledgeable about the industry and they’ve seen many startups make it and break it. Some might think of journalists as writers who’re only out to catch them off-guard for a sensational story, while others see journalists purely as mouthpieces for their brand. Don’t treat a media interaction purely as transaction, especially in Singapore where journalists are open to conversations.

Along with your interview, make an effort to sit with them over coffee and find out what they think about your products and services. Have an honest conversation and pay attention to what they have to say. You might be surprised at their suggestions, which could help you re-consider loopholes you’ve missed.

PR complements your startup’s initial launch and can be really impactful in driving growth. Not every news article is going to land you a million dollar investment, but every PR step you take in the right direction will persuade your potential clients, add credibility to your brand, and boost your online presence to eventually establish you as the startup to look out for.

This article was first published 14 July 2014 on e27.
If you’d like to discuss your public relations approach, get in touch with us at [email protected].
Startup Live Vienna image by Heisenberg Media is licensed under CC BY 2.0.