10 November 2021
by Rosemary Lee, Account Manager, Sandpiper Singapore. Rosemary is a specialist in corporate communications acoss Singapore and Southeast Asia. She is experienced in corporate and internal communications in start-ups in the technology and ecommerce sectors, as well as listed asset management, technology and healthcare industry clients.
What I like about working with startups is their enthusiasm and boldness. They’ve created a solution, product or service that challenges the market in some way — big or small. Whether it’s impacting the lives of a narrow niche audience, or changing the entire world, it’s exciting and humbling to work with people who have genuine passion for making the way we live better. It takes bravery to go all in on a startup. It’s not for everyone.
Media love startups for the same reason. They’re always on the lookout for stories about challenging the status quo and people who are doing things differently, which startups deliver in spades. So startup PR can help facilitate a win-win for both parties. Journalists get a story about dynamic leaders with an exciting vision for the world that entertains, educates and informs their audience. Meanwhile, the startup gets the much-needed benefit of increased awareness at this crucial growth stage of business.
Some startups lack the funds to invest in PR expertise, while others just don’t see the benefit. Others, unfortunately, only see PR as a crisis management tool, turning to it if the tide of public opinion sways against them. So while PR is a considerable investment for a cash-poor startup, like any other investment, it needs to deliver solid returns to be successful. When it comes to conversions, PR has been found to generate 10 to 50 times that of advertising. Digital marketing, SEO and analytics expert Neil Patel said, “ there are few things that will give your company the boost it needs as effectively as press coverage.” So, with the potential benefits to awareness and conversion that PR can generate, the rewards can be considerable.
At the early to mid stages of a startup, it’s all about attracting investors. This begins with awareness, which media coverage can instantly impact. There’s not a startup founder alive who wouldn’t want to secure an in-depth print feature, interview or TV appearance hyping up their new venture. It’s about telling your story and getting your name out there. Venture capitalists and other investors are constantly searching for their next new project, and use a variety of tactics to unearth new opportunities. So naturally, they’re paying attention to media coverage across a variety of channels to explore potential avenues for investment. Beyond that awareness stage, investors can be influenced by media coverage to choose one option over another. Having that capacity to secure independent third party endorsement via the media may be the element that makes one startup more attractive than another.
Some startups expect media to produce content that ‘promotes their offer’ or ‘profiles the company.’ It’s a common misbelief, but journalists will give you the phone number of the advertising team if you want that sort of result. If you want to gain maximum value from your startup PR efforts, it comes with understanding and delivering what journalists seek: stories. Many a startup has come undone with a pitch to the media that resulted in thorough questions that they’re not ready to answer.
Journalists do their due diligence and have a well-honed nose for sniffing out the most interesting aspects of a story. If you’re able to deliver the story they need, and understand the level of transparency and detail they expect, the results can be outstanding. But you can’t control the message, or expect to pick and choose the angle they take. Startups might be dreaming of a front page-feature, but it may boil down to a mention in a broader story about another issue. They might ask third party experts for their opinion, or perhaps seek research or data that either backs up or disprove your theory. Being strategic about what you offer the media and prepared for diligent questioning can maximise your chances of success.
Unfortunately, when you’re a startup you don’t have the social proof or evidence of huge returns, year-on-year growth or deep market penetration—yet. Journalists are looking for proof of concept and success stories before they consider giving your story valuable coverage. Plus they have plenty of stories landing in their inbox, competing for attention. So only the strongest angles make the cut. You may have a groundbreaking idea, but if there’s no proof of concept, it may not be enough to spark media interest. This is why we at Sandpiper recommend a strategic approach, depending on the startup’s stage of growth.
Often at those early stages focusing on niche, trade and smaller media outlets are preferable. Success on that scale allows startup founders to gain valuable experience in dealing with media, preparing for media interviews and honing the message. Drip feeding a series of stories, gradually growing the impact, can be highly valuable. We all know that people need regular touchpoints with a brand before they purchase. The same can be said for journalists and investors.
Consistency compounds, so being featured here and there, over a sustained period can deliver incremental gains in awareness, which can be invaluable for a startup. Patience is key, as it takes time to build up a library of media results. The other benefit of this strategy, particularly if you focus on smaller tier media at first, is improving your impact with larger players before you make that first outreach. For example, if you’re aiming for a feature in the Financial Times, Bloomberg or Reuters, you stand a greater chance of getting a ‘yes’ if they search your name and see a dozen or so existing pieces of media coverage in smaller financial media, trade press or niche publications.
As PR startup specialists, we can devise a strategy that helps startups capitalise on potential media interest. With an extensive network of media contacts, we can often fast-track the initial introduction stage, ensuring journalists become aware of startups at the optimal stage of their growth journey. We’re also able to ensure startups are best prepared to take advantage of media opportunities, so they’re delivering journalists what they need and consequently maximising potential for coverage. It’s often best to get a PR team on board early in the startup journey, so they can be part of influencing media and public perception as early as possible. While the investment is considerable for startups when cash flow is often a challenge, the potential for return is outstanding — securing investors, boosting awareness and building an audience via strategic startup PR can be a considerable element of the startup’s ultimate success.
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