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Easy A+ in Publicity: PR Basics for Bootstrapped Start-ups

Public relations and communication strategies for brands play a crucial role. Your communications strategist does more than just chat up journalists and walk around engrossed in their iPhones. Without a proper communications strategy, your brand ceases awareness and interest with the consumers.

“No money, no talk” is probably the most overused phrase we hear in this industry. Without some form of investment (be it financial or in kind), you really can’t guarantee outstanding brand awareness for your business. This applies to almost everyone, from medium-sized companies who don’t see the need to invest in media houses for publicity to start-ups which can’t afford to invest in PR agencies or media houses to spread a good word.

In this day and age, I trust more people are aware that public relations and communication strategies for brands play a crucial role. Your communications strategist does more than just chat up journalists and walk around engrossed in their iPhones. Without a proper communications strategy, your brand ceases awareness and interest with the consumers. Your brand fails to ring a bell in minds. Your brand, no matter how excellent your services claim to be, fails to shine a little bit brighter in comparison to the variety of competitors vying in the same industry.

Hence the question – what can you do to create brand recognition when you don’t have the money to invest?

Make Friends

Why are big dogs lucky when it comes to gaining extensive media coverage? One thing for sure would be the finances available to invest in media partnerships, collaborations and advertisements. You pay a certain sum, you get a couple of pages in a magazine in return. Now as a start-up, we can’t exactly expect money to miraculously grow on trees. With an extremely limited budget allocation, this doesn’t mean you have no way around it. One would strongly advise to invest in building and establishing relationships with media practitioners. Make friends with everyone, from photographers, journalists to freelance writers. Get to know them, what they like and what they hate, understand what kind of content piece are they working on and how does your brand fit in. Avoid hard selling your brand – the media doesn’t owe you a story, in fact, you owe them a favour every time you pitch for your brand to be featured. Start with no agenda lunches and coffee breaks always. Build relationships first before diving into coverage favours. Think about your media pitches the same way you think of getting married. You don’t pop the question to a random stranger – you get to know them and romance them first. So as wrong as this might sound, romance your media friend first. Then ask for your favour.

Is your brand content newsworthy?

This is a problem faced by everyone and anyone who is desperate for media coverage. It doesn’t matter whether you are a big dog or a small dog – it’s crucial to examine the newsworthiness of your content before enforcing it upon your media comrades as a feature. What are you announcing and to whom are you announcing this news? Is it the launch of your start-up? Are you expanding to different markets across Southeast Asia? Before sending out a release or pitch, always put yourself in the writer’s shoes : Why should I publish this story? How does it benefit me or my current readers?

Here’s a breakdown of topics which are considered newsworthy for startups:

  1. New management hires. But this does depend on the profile of the management if this particular person is reputable in the industry. Is he a local boy who’s made his hometown proud with this venture?
  2. New funding – If your startup is backed by an established company, you could leverage on their current reputation.
  3. Location – Especially in terms of expanding to new markets. What does your startup offer to these markets which no one else can?
  4. Milestone – Revolutionary sales and growth for the quarter.


Apart from that, also consider the time you release your news. Don’t set your hopes high if you send out a release at the same time Apple announces their latest gadget.

Pitch Method

My personal mentor, my very own Verna Thornton in public relations, a wonderful intelligent woman by the name of Yan Lim who currently leads iOli Communications taught me that the best pitch is to be out on the field, putting a face to a name and speaking to a journalist in a personal meeting. Get off your high horse, calling and spamming email inboxes. Do it in person. Regardless of the fact that your pitch gets picked up or not, this gesture will be appreciated and pave way for future collaborations.

Go Digital

The good thing or should I say the best thing about a digital world is you don’t need much money to invest to get the word across about your brand. Coordinate your social media platforms inclusive of Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. Face it, our attention span is declining by the day which is why we should leverage on social platforms best to reach out with news. One example I like is the Founder of ONE Championship, Mr Chatri Sityodtong – ONE is not a startup at this point but Chatri still shares his company news and milestones on all his social platforms, all the while amplifying the news value. Another way you can see it is, if you don’t believe in your story enough to share it on your social platforms, why would anyone else?

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Written By

Atiqah Khamurudin is a Public Relations and Media strategist. She has worked with a wide range of clients from media houses, e-commerce startups, government organizations as well as premium fashion brands. You can follow her on LinkedIn.

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