How to use PR effectively

8 September 2015

Successful companies are the culmination of three elements – capital, talent and market knowledge. Raising capital may cause the most sleepless nights, but is probably the least important of those three.

So with that in mind, how can you put a credible communications process in place for the lifespan of your company. Here are some simple communications rules, followed by some not so simple ones.

Never talk about your technology, let others do that for you. While you may love your tech, customers only want to know how it will make their lives or returns better. The more you talk about your tech, the more people are prone to think that your tech doesn’t work, paradoxically.

question-markStartup press releases are a necessary evil, which should report on first customers or money raised, only because this answers 99% of peoples’ questions. “Does the stuff work”? “Has someone else taken a chance on it first”? “Will this company be around”?

Keep in mind that most people have enough headspace to remember only about five words to describe you after you have left the room. When all is said and done, that is your brand. So if you can’t say it in a tagline or on a t-shirt, you have a problem. In the early stages your tagline is more important than your name, to highlight what you do and where you do it.

Now, the more strategic messaging takes a long term effort. When it comes to market knowledge, you need to convince your audience, investors, partners and customers that you know where the market is going to be in 18 months time. No company can survive without at least convincing customers that they know what will happen in the near term. Customers want their hand held into that future and know that you’ll be waiting there for them with a product that works. They won’t just buy the product you have now.

To an extent, you have to develop your own sector, so that you can own the language of that sector and credibly seek to alter it for the better. So after you’ve figured out where your sector is going to go and how it’s going to be changed, you need to map out a roadmap as to how it’s going to get there. That’s your marcomms plan.

Don’t measure success in column inches, it is usually better to be a trusted source in the 3rd paragraph of an interesting story on your sector than in the headline. Leave that for when you are making real news. Establish your own origin myth story first, people like to know what countryman you are, that is, where have you come from and is the trajectory of your story credible based on your journey so far.

forbes-imageTo find outlets who are interested in the story, it’s always best to go to media who are already covering your sector and want to see a process story that’s brought on. Don’t expect them to care about your company. You live, breathe and eat it, but to everyone else, it’s not that big a hill of beans. Always try and retain that objectivity about what you’re doing. So, it’s not the story of your company and what you’ve managed to do, which is where 95% of your daily effort goes, it’s how will your company change the existing world. It’s almost impossible to get that involved in a start up company and not find something out, that no one else knows about but that you have unique insight into.

Even if you feel the generalist audience is irrelevant to you, they are your best asset in the early stages when only a few hundred or maybe a thousand people are going to be relevant to you. But if a million people read about you in a newspaper or on a site it’s the best kind of credibility filter as the people who do matter like to feel that you have exposed yourself to that public glare and haven’t been found wanting.

To build a credible communications process, you have to create your own truths sometimes. I have never told a lie but sometimes I’ve told the truth before it becomes the truth. I used to be able to get away with this when there were longer print lead in times, but on a more serious note, it’s about not stretching the elasticity of credibility too thinly while being as optimistic about your prospects as seems credible. Good luck with that.

We like to think as human beings that we’re data driven, but we’re not, we’re anecdote driven. There’s a saying in tech circles that the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but as human beings, we don’t believe that in our bones. And it’s a good thing to try out these messages early and see what resonates. It is never too early to start talking about yourself, however imperfect.

It’s an amazing time for start ups in Ireland and around the world but there’s also a glut of them so do yourself a favour and don’t get in the way of your own discovery.

Previously published in the Sunday Business Post

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