PR for startups – build credibility and trust.

By Guest Contributor, Michelle Schurman

Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several Calgary startups and their founders to help grow their businesses. These founders are one step ahead of many, as they are already aware of the benefits that a solid public relations strategy can have for their business. If you’re not sure what public relations is and how it can work for your business, then let’s dive in!

First off, while public relations and marketing work very closely together, there is a difference. Both have their place, though the public is increasingly wary of being “sold to”. The practice of public relations educates, informs and influences the behaviour of an audience. We recommend building awareness of a product or service through public relations and sustaining it over time with marketing.

Credibility

Earned media provides third party validation for your growing startup.You can talk about how great your business is all day long, but it’s even better when other people are talking about how great your business is. When your startup is mentioned in a news article or broadcast or your founder is quoted for a comment and perspective on an issue relating to the business, it helps to build trust and legitimacy. No one wants to do business or invest in a fly-by-night operation that might be here today and gone tomorrow. It’s your job to help educate your audience about what problem your business is solving and highlight success stories and positive case studies. Check out Calgary startup Communo’s press page where they showcase their media coverage for members, future members and potential investors to discover.

SEO and backlinks

Here is where PR can add some secret sauce to your online persona and search engine ranking. When your company receives a backlink from a credible publication or media outlet, your company website will begin to rank higher in Google searches. We know that consumers today are shopping and researching online, so if they google keywords relating to your business, credible backlinks can help ensure they will find you easily. Being featured on a major news network, like Global, where there is both video and text with backlinks (seen here with client NIDUM), definitely gives a bump to your SEO rating.

Become an expert in your field

In my opinion, every startup founder should be writing and/or creating videos offering ideas, opinions or meaningful insight. Everybody rolls their eyes at the term “thought leader” these days, but sharing your wisdom is an important way to gain authority in your field. There are a variety of ways you can do this and a public relations professional can help you write blogs, LinkedIn posts, create videos, white papers and opinion editorials to submit to well-respected publications. One of my clients, Bode Canada, is doing an excellent job in this category, with regular blogs and a recent op-ed by CEO Robert Price that was picked up by CBC. 

Once you start establishing yourself as an “expert” you will find that media and reporters start coming to you for comment on a particular subject. I know from working in the media for many years that journalists love their expert sources – they are people media can go to for a knowledgeable comment and they understand the timely nature of the news biz. i.e. “We need a comment in an hour!”

Timing

Jumping into PR too early can damage your growing brand and leave customers feeling duped and disappointed. But, waiting too long means you’ll risk being a follower, not a leader, in the market. On more than one occasion, I’ve been approached by business owners and entrepreneurs who tell me they “need PR” either for themselves or their businesses. Of course, I’m all about helping people grow their businesses, but it’s really important to figure out when you’re actually ready for PR services.

When it comes to startups, I usually recommend having about six months of run time to your credit – how many customers, sign-ups, transactions have you had up to that point? There must be some proof that your business concept is valid.

There is one exception to that rule, though. If you are a founder who has had previous successes either building a business or climbing the corporate ladder in your previous company, then you can use that experience to your credit. Your track record of building a successful business can bode well for your new startup and the media will respect that.

Get the building blocks in place

Journalists are busy people with strict deadlines and they don’t have a lot of time to spend researching you or your business. If you’re hoping to land some great coverage, make it easy for journalists, your customers and the public to learn about you! You’ll want to have some credible testimonials, informative blog articles and a knockout “About” page on your website. And, please, show us a picture of yourself. Everyone wants to see the face and learn about the person behind the business. 

Consider this – 61% of journalists will check out your social media channels before considering coverage. So, your social media accounts should be up to date, active and responsive. Plus, it’s a really smart way to build a community of “your people” who will help share your messages. 

Have your media spokesperson ready!

It’s a pet peeve of mine when companies pursue media relations and then don’t have someone who is ready, willing and able to do interviews. When you are in an active media campaign, you must have someone who is willing to drop almost anything to accept that media interview. If you’re not available, they will move on to someone else. If you feel nervous about working with the media, don’t worry, many PR pros can help you get comfortable through media training. You can work together to refine your key messages, prep for tough questions and rock that interview like a pro!

 

This article is written by Michelle of Michelle Schurman PR – A YYC based media relations and PR consultancy. Be sure to check out her work and follow her page on Instagram.

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