Of all the skills required as an entrepreneur, we can safely say that Public Relations is one of the most daunting and tricky to master. It is complex, time-consuming, and can be the difference between rapid growth, and complete stagnation. Needless to say you need to get it right.
For this reason and so many more, entrepreneurs hand over the reigns of their PR strategy to agencies, which whilst technically proficient, sometimes lack the specialist industry knowledge to deliver maximum results.
It’s an issue that our friend Sallie Boyce is trying to solve through her new Startup PR Academy, which will empower entrepreneurs to take control of their own PR, and equip them with the tools and skills necessary to construct strategy which will deliver the best results for their unique position.
We are very intrigued by the notion of DIY PR and so asked Sally if we could pick her brain on the subject.
Hi Sallie! Now that we have the attention of a seasoned pro, we must take this opportunity to ask, what precisely is PR and where does it sit in relation to other activities such as marketing and advertising?
Hi there and thanks for having me!
PR is a discipline that can be misunderstood. Some people take a very broad view (it’s what you do, say, and what other say about you), but I think it’s about things that impact the way your target audience perceives you.
Some of the tactics this typically includes are media coverage (TV, radio, blogs, newspapers, magazines), social media, events, e-books, and even charity work.
All marketing should be based on a solid foundation of what your ideal customer’s ‘pain points’ are, how you can help them, and how you deliver that message to them. It is in this last step that you decide whether the medium is Twitter, an advert in The Observer, being featured in Vogue, or a combination of many things.
A useful distinction to make is whether it’s ‘paid media’ or ‘earned media’. Paid media (advertising, essentially) means that you can control the message – you write the advert and include the images you want. The downside is, people actively ignore advertising.
Earned media is where there’s a third party involved as a sort of filter. You can give them all the information on your widget, but they choose whether to feature it, whether to write good or bad things, and how to position it. So there’s clearly a higher risk. But the reward is also higher as it’s perceived as a third party endorsement, and therefore increases the credibility of the brand.
Give us your pitch! What is the Startup PR Academy hoping to achieve, and how does this differ from the more traditional PR route?
The Startup PR Academy gives entrepreneurs everything they need to start gaining visibility and credibility for their business through targeted media coverage.
In order to get consistent PR results, startups need to be spending £1000+ per month if they are to achieve anything strategic – i.e. not just one random article on a website.
With the Academy, we help startups to weave the principles of PR into the fabric of their business, so that PR almost becomes a by-product of their everyday activity.
So not only will we teach them how to position themselves as an industry expert, for example, but also little things like, putting a clause as standard in their client contracts, that says they’re happy to talk about this relationship in the media; it will make media coverage that much easier.
We want to take entrepreneurs on a journey from little or no PR experience, right up to the point where they do want to invest £1,000 or £2,000 in PR, at which point we’ll teach them how to identify the right agency, how to brief an agency, and how to make the most out of their relationship with the agency.
People naturally assume that they aren’t qualified (or can’t be taught) to take care of their own PR, clearly you think they’re wrong, so can you explain your thoughts about this?
If someone can start their own business, I firmly believe they can get PR. The best person to tell the story of the startup, is the startup! Small companies with passionate entrepreneurs are full of interesting anecdotes waiting to be told. And PR is all about storytelling.
We teach our entrepreneurs to get a bit creative when thinking about their media profile. There are a lot of people out there vying for column inches, so we want to give our members the best chance of cutting through the noise.
If you talk to small businesses who’ve had experience with PR agencies, the biggest criticism is so often that they didn’t understand the brand, or the product or the industry enough. But that’s not a problem if you cut out the middle man.
It seems somewhat counter intuitive though doesn’t it? A PR consultant teaching people to handle their own PR; surely if people can take care of their own PR you risk being a victim of your own success, don't you?
Ha! I have joked that I’m actually just developing my ideal clients!
Anyone familiar with the 80:20 knows it’s good practice in business to try and remove the 80% of your customers responsible for 20% of your revenue, and focus on the 20% of your customers bringing in 80% of your revenue.
And in PR agencies, it’s the unknown clients with small, sporadic budgets and little experience of how PR works that get cut.
What I’m doing is collecting all the startups and small businesses that agencies view as ‘unprofitable’, and nurturing them until they are an ideal (and profitable) client.
When it comes to PR, what are the biggest challenges facing the average startup, and what advice can you give to help overcome these?
The biggest challenge is being an unknown quantity. So I would try and start small, and build yourself a media profile from the ground up. Start with reaching out to some niche blogs in your industry, talk to them about your product. Then talk to your local newspaper, about what it’s like doing business in your area, how it might have changed and what the opportunities are.
Once you’ve got a bit of a media profile going on, reach out to some journalists that write about companies like yours in your industry magazine. Start a dialogue about what they like to write about, and how you can help. Have some case studies of your product or service, if relevant.
The main thing is to always think about your target customer, where they will be most likely to see you, and how you can add value to them.
What would you say are the most significant differences (if any) between public relations in large established businesses and startups?
A) budget B) attention
When you have the budget you can hire well-known industry professionals to collaborate with you on projects, spend thousands crunching numbers for reports, and hire studios to get on the radio. When you’re a startup you have to hustle those things, which means you get less of them, and less control over them.
If you are Apple journalists take your call, open your emails, and come directly to you for comment. Whereas, when you’re Startup Widget Inc, without an amazing subject line, your emails will probably get deleted without being opened, and you’ll be fobbed-off when you call them.
Again, you just need to use a bit of tenacity.
Can you give us a few examples of how startups can employ PR strategies particularly well?
Doing pulse surveys can be effective if you’ve got some budget. So get a small sample (say 200 people) to answer questions on something that is breaking news that day, so you can get the results into the paper the following day. Look for something relevant to your sector or a topic of broad interest that could be angled in a relevant way.
It’s important to have your story in place, why should people listen to you? What makes you a credible person/company to comment on this? And just keep plugging away.
Where do you see the business in 12 months?
In 12 months I hope to have helped 1,000 entrepreneurs to get their story to their intended audience using targeted media coverage. And I hope to see at least 25% of them ‘graduating’ and going out to hire a PR agency, with the help of our courses.
Thanks for all of the amazing advice Sallie, and the very best of luck with your new Startup PR Academy! Why not connect with her via Facebook or Twitter?
Mi-IDEA Manchester Networking Event
27th Sep 2016
The teams from CISCO and Manchester Science Partnerships have teamed up to create Mi-IDEA, a post-accelerator designed to foster and nurture digital innovation in the North West of England.