Where to start with PR and communications

Step back and think about what you’re trying to achieve

At EQT Ventures’ last Circles event, I wanted to set the record straight about PR and provide some insight into what PR can and (perhaps more importantly) can’t do, how to kick off your PR efforts and managing an agency.

Firstly, PR is not a silver bullet and, as a founder, you shouldn’t start your PR programme with the assumption that it’s going to solve all your problems. Hiring a PR agency or an in-house communications specialist won’t automatically result in talented people knocking down your office door for a job. Nor will it result in sales growing exponentially and your company suddenly becoming famous in a new territory. But it can help to drive all of these results when aligned with the broader business strategy and not considered in isolation.

Before you rush into PR and hire either an agency or somebody in-house, you need to ask yourself a few key questions:

  • What is your company’s mission?

Step back and consider what you want to achieve as a business. When you founded your business, you set out to solve a problem for people. Consider how you’re going to tell this story — what is the problem, why was it important to you and how does your offering solve it? PR isn’t pushing out press announcements to journalists, keeping your fingers crossed and hoping to get coverage. It’s about telling a compelling story that people can connect with. This story isn’t just for an external audience — it sits at the core of your business. It feeds into the direction of the product, the people you hire, the company culture you create, how you sell your product; every area of your company. Everyone at your company should understand the vision and be able to communicate it.

  • Who are your target audiences?

Just as your offering is targeted at a particular audience, your communications should be too. Yes, “air cover” brand visibility has value, increasing awareness of your company’s name with a widespread audience. Think about when you see / hear someone being interviewed on TV or radio or see a piece on a recent survey in the national press. Chances are you’ll remember the company name, but won’t know what it does or offers. You should combine “air cover” with tailored messages to the people who are making the decisions, using and buying your product. You need to understand what their pain points are and do your research. What keeps CMOs up at night isn’t what keeps up a CTO or CEO and you need to understand what makes the people you’re targeting tick. Where do they consume content — forums, publications, social, broadcast? PR doesn’t just cover press outlets — it encompasses your website, social channels, events and more. Build campaigns and stories that really push your audiences buttons.

  • How are you measuring success?

Before you hire an agency or an in-house communications person you need to understand where PR fits into the marketing plan as a whole and what success looks like. One of the most common complaints I hear from startups is that their PR agencies aren’t delivering, but digging beneath the surface often reveals that:

  1. KPIs haven’t been discussed and agreed on
  2. If KPIs have been set, they’re not aligned to the business strategy and simply focus on, for example, coverage numbers
  3. No one in-house has time to manage the agency effectively

This last point is key. Working with a PR agency is a two-way street. You can’t sign a contract and assume the agency will just get on with it. The team needs to understand your company and offering inside out, what spokespeople are happy to comment on and talk to press about, your thoughts on particular news stories, new customers / partners, and more. The more you put in, the more you get out. If there’s no one available on a day-to-day basis to approve content, provide access to spokespeople or discuss new campaign ideas, it’s very difficult to get results. This is a topic that will be covered in-depth in an upcoming post.

Step back, think and then write your PR plan.