A common mistake that many new businesses make is failing to differentiate between marketing and public relations and therefore only putting resources into the former than the latter. Given their similarities, it is not all that surprising, but the downside is that as a business grows, it becomes harder to play catch up on developing your brand’s overall public reputation if you’ve only been focusing on short-term marketing strategies to increase revenue.
A dedicated PR strategy is critical for any startup that’s dreaming big. Failure to effectively manage your channels of communication with the public, media and potential shareholders can cause issues down the line, especially as a PR strategy is something that has to develop in line with your current stage of growth. Each stage has its own set of goals and challenges that every budding entrepreneur should be aware of before attempting to build their new business, and being well prepared is crucial for a shot at success.
To make it simpler, you can look at it in terms of the 3 stages of growth.
Stage 1: The launch phase
Similar to a marketing strategy, when you first launch your business your target audience is generally going to be wider than later stages when you have data and feedback to analyze; fortunately, PR strategies aim to cast a wider net in the first place. You can begin by researching publications and platforms that you’re confident will reach your intended customer base and using these, along with your own social media and other online channels like your website to announce your product or service.
At this point, it is unlikely for you to have enough industry clout to compare yourself directly to your major competitors unless you’ve really revolutionized your marketplace, so your focus should be on why what you offer is great, not why it’s better than someone else’s. When starting off, it may also be hard to find mainstream outlets to give you press, but there’s nothing to stop your writing your own.
Contributed posts and articles are pieces that you can write to give your audience insight into your industry from a neutral, insider’s perspective. This is a fantastic way to leverage your previous experience to show potential customers that you understand the industry and their specific needs, and you can use it to generate buzz about a specific topic or get a conversation started that will get you noticed.
Whatever approach you take during the launch stage of your business’ growth, remember to track and record everything. Take note of who you’ve contacted and whether your outreach has been successful, make sure you know how people reacted to your communications, and start to decide which strategies have worked and which haven’t.
Stage 2: The growth phase
So, by now you have started to see the fruits of your labour and your enterprise is starting to grow, but how do you adapt your PR strategy for the next stage?
This is where your fastidious information gathering comes into play, and without logging your progress in the launch stage, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Analyzing the feedback from the first stage of your strategy, you can now begin to identify the areas you’ve had the most success and start being more selective about your PR strategy. Look for the areas you’ve had the most positive responses and start dedicating more time to these, and if seeing the bigger picture means you notice areas you missed previously, feel free to put some feelers out here.
While the launch stage can be a case of trial-and-error at times, ultimately this approach becomes unsustainable as your business grows for a number of reasons.
Firstly, while PR is supposed to be a low-cost exercise when compared to marketing, if you don’t hone in on your most successful channels you can end up wasting time, and time is money. Secondly, the purpose of excellent PR is to create a strong brand image, and if you spend too much time in the wrong areas, customers may start to become confused about who you are. This may not have a negative impact, but it’s not conducive to further growth; if you’ve used what you’ve learned to conduct sustainable outreach in the areas most beneficial to your brand, you’ll start to gain more positive recognition.
Stage 3: The sustainable phase
Getting into the habit of sustainable PR in the growth stage is great practice for the final stage, aptly named the sustainable stage, because at this point you need to be able to build on what you have, without letting your strategy collapse under its own weight. You’ll want to be investing a suitable amount of time, money, and manpower at this stage as you’ll have a large reputation to manage. Being well-known is a double-edged sword when it comes to PR as you’ll have the best opportunities to use it for growth but on the other hand, anything negative concerning your image has a greater chance of doing your brand harm. This is why it’s important to have enough experienced players on your team to carefully implement your strategy while being able to effectively close down any potential negative press before it becomes an issue.
When you reach this stage of growth, you can start to employ multiple spokespeople for each of your brand verticals who know how to play to each brand’s strengths. You can also begin to start positioning yourself against competitors that you know you have an advantage over, as you’ll have the reputation to back it up. This doesn’t necessarily mean trying to be negative about your competitors and what they offer, but if you know you do something better you can definitely start getting people to talk about it. This stage of growth doesn’t truly end once you’ve moved through post-investment and into profitability, or even if you become a multinational corporation, and no matter how much you grow, you should always be learning and adapting from everything you’ve done before.