Last week, I went to an event organized by ETW Advisors, a startup advisory firm, where a public relations (PR) professional gave advice to startup founders on developing and executing a communications plan. The presenter did a great job at addressing all of the main things founders should keep in mind as they think about developing a PR function within their company. And many of those in the audience were watching with rapt attention, as they jotted down notes, took photos of slides, and asked questions during the Q&A session.
As I sat there, not knowing anything about the companies being represented at the event, I wondered, “do all of these early-stage startups really need to be thinking about PR right now?” My answer used to be a resounding yes, but based on my recent experiences, primarily in the B2B startup world, my answer is now more of a maybe. Let me explain…
PR is important for targeting SMBs
I believe that the size of the companies an early-stage startup targets dictates their marketing strategy and the approach they take on certain functions, like PR.
Startups targeting small- to medium-sized businesses (SMB) need to approach marketing almost like they are going after consumers in the B2C world, since it is difficult to target individual SMB companies at scale. So for startups taking this go-to-market approach, it is critical to place a lot of emphasis on activities that generate inbound demand; popularly known as inbound marketing.
For inbound marketing, creating general market awareness to drive demand is critical, so PR is important, as are other functions like content marketing, social media marketing, and search engine optimization. As a result, startups targeting SMBs should seriously consider devoting internal resources towards PR early and maybe even retaining an external resource (a PR consultant or an agency).
PR is not as critical when targeting enterprises
On the other hand, early-stage startups that are targeting larger enterprises can take a more measured approach to getting their initial customers. They should place their emphasis on generating outbound demand by targeting specific companies. A popular approach to doing that these days is called account-based marketing (ABM), where an organization reaches out and communicates with individual prospects at target accounts as markets of one.
For ABM, driving demand through custom interactions with prospects should be the foundation of joint sales and marketing efforts. These activities can range from traditional tasks, like emails and phone calls, to modern, digital campaigns executed via new ABM platforms that enable the targeting of prospects within specific accounts.
Creating awareness among prospects at target accounts generally helps the effectiveness of the focused, outbound activities. But until a startup has enterprise references that are willing to participate in PR activities, it is difficult to get the attention of the press. Fortunately, there are other options available today, like LinkedIn advertising, that can be used to build awareness among a targeted group of people and that may be more effective than PR in a startup’s early days.
PR could be important for other company goals
Up until now, I have just addressed PR’s role in acquiring a startup’s early customers. A startup also has other goals, like raising money and recruiting employees. For these type of goals, creating awareness and generating buzz are important and PR could be a great way to accomplish them.
The bottom line is that PR is a resource- and potentially cost-intensive activity. Before making a commitment to it, make sure you know what your objectives and goals are, and whether you have the assets for a successful PR program. A compelling story, unique point-of-views, and as mentioned earlier, when targeting enterprises, customer references are among the elements that should be in place. And remember to keep in mind the size of the companies you are targeting as you develop your approach to PR.