From Africa to Latin America, the startup scenes in emerging markets are bustling with activity. Venture capital investing in emerging markets rose to $27.4 billion in 2019 compared to $12.6 billion in 2014. This surge in activity reflects the increasing number of startups vying for attention as each firm seeks to stand out as a market leader. As opposed to marketing which drives sales, Public Relations (PR) can help firms achieve this visibility. Here are some things you should know about why and when to hire professional PR services:
How does PR work?
PR refers to the relationship between a company and its core audiences such as partners, investors, and potential employees. PR firms typically help clients build these critical relationships around a key company narrative that speaks to the firm’s mission, solution, team, and identity. The narrative needs to be a strong, coherent, and easily understood story about the firm. It is typically short, memorable, and concrete whilst speaking to the company’s mission.
PR broadly addresses perception through efforts to get your company in the news organically, crafting and spreading your brand narrative through original content, and positioning your company as a thought leader in your sector. Data, market insights, and traction in terms of market scale or fundraising are great tools for PR outreach and engagement with target audiences. They help create clear messaging, solid brand positioning and enable convincing campaigns.
Why startups struggle with professional PR
It is common for startups to be run as tight ships with limited resources and small teams focused on product development, marketing, and fundraising. A concerted PR effort often falls outside of the scope of a startup’s team and often falls on founders who represent the company at conference events and in the media. When startups that are pre-seed or struggling to find product-market fit hire PR firms, they are often hard-pressed to participate in the activities that define their relationship with their audiences and are thereby unable to fully absorb the value of the professional PR services.
When is it time for professional PR?
In our experience at Insider, PR-ready startups often come to us at these stages:
- Their product is in the market and they need to establish brand authority
- They are fundraising and looking to increase their visibility to investors
- They have just fundraised or achieved a significant milestone and want to create a PR buzz around this development in order to maintain momentum
- They are looking to attract new talent by showcasing their company vision, culture, and people
- They have entered into a new market and want to establish brand presence and authority
There is a need for a strong narrative, upon which PR is built, during these critical growth stages. When earlier, founders must make time and commit to PR by outsourcing to a credible PR firm active in the space. As the companies grow, founders can add in-house communications capacity supported by a PR firm.
Startups may be unable to absorb the value of professional PR if:
- They have not yet even raised a pre-seed round
- Founders or top executives cannot dedicate at least two hours a week
- The startup does not have clear PR objectives
- The startup has limited market traction and is still in pilot phase
Another prerequisite for successful PR is that startups have to be willing to invest in a long-term commitment. We usually advise a minimum six-month contract to generate momentum since sustained PR that creates impact goes beyond distributing one press release. Developing a startup’s brand identity and market credibility is not the result of one press release or one article and does not happen overnight.
How to lay the foundations for professional PR
Even when a startup is not ready to invest in professional PR, it can and should lay the groundwork for a PR strategy. It is important for a startup to deploy the tools at its disposal including using social media for thought leadership and developing a brand narrative. Startups and founders can share educational and interactive brand content and also be a part of industry conversations either via Twitter Spaces, ClubHouse, or using hashtags, for example.
Company blogs are also useful to share progress reports and spotlight a startup’s people, products, and processes.
It is critical for startups considering PR services to evaluate their position and consult with potential PR partners on their readiness. With a compelling narrative to share with the world and the budget and time to commit to a campaign, startups should hire specialized PR firms to help accomplish their strategic goals.