Putting the ‘PR’ into entrepreneur

Alastair Turner explains how start-ups can make themselves heard in a crowded marketplace, the advantages they have over more established businesses and why creating a strong brand as soon as possible is the foundation for communications success

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The Independent Online

Many aspire to be an entrepreneur and see their dream become a reality while taking a healthy slice of profit home with them. But the primary reason most people don’t realise this dream is because it’s a huge challenge to actually start a business from scratch.

Investing large sums of money on fresh ideas, innovative products and services can be a daunting task and, even if your company is already successful, maintaining success and sustaining growth is another thing entirely. It doesn’t matter if you have the greatest product in the world, unless the public is aware of it and understands its benefits, growing your customer base will prove difficult.

Start-ups in particular find communicating the workings of their unique selling point a struggle when there is little budget for communications and the business does not have an established relationship with the press – or know how to start one.

However, there are steps that any start-up can take to ensure it’s on the right track from the off.

Building your brand from day one

Your brand should be more than an eye-catching logo and witty tagline. Every line you write about your company should be inspired by your brand, your messaging and your company values. Start-ups usually have a great origin story, having spotted a gap in the market or solved a familiar problem with a new idea.

During the formative years, it is crucial to identify the elements of this origin story to resonate with your target audience. This is the opportunity for you to crystalise exactly what your company is about and develop an engaging story that communicates a clear message. This will be refreshing for journalists and customers alike, who are nowadays too accustomed to listening to established brands spout confused messages formed by several generations of marketing teams.

Once the company message is determined, the next step is finding a representative in the company who can speak on its behalf. A primary spokesperson is essential, given that the inventor of a new product might have the best idea of how it works, but may not be able to articulate this in a way that is clear. Choose someone with a sound knowledge of the product or service you are offering, but who can also speak with passion and clarity.

Finally, although a start-up should be able to communicate its values and goals clearly and concisely, tackling complex subjects and technologies is all the more challenging if you can’t sum up exactly what it is that your company does in one line.

Standing out from the crowd

Whether you’re a bright-eyed grad with a killer app or the CEO of international conglomerate, you will struggle to make your voice heard if your business doesn’t have a great website. Anyone who writes about you online or any news on the web should backlink to your website. It should showcase your skills and experience, while keeping fresh with a regular stream of new content. Crucially, it must accurately reflect your voice and your messaging. 

Whether generating content for a journalist, your website, or a blog, you should ensure your messaging is written in an inspiring and engaging manner. To do this, it is essential to know where your company fits with industry trends and you should be happy to comment on developments in the market you are in. Even if you haven’t created a full by-lined article, the ability to respond to breaking news quickly is a great way of catching a journalist’s attention and is a low-cost means of demonstrating thought leadership.

Finally, it is important to recognise that PR and social media are no longer two separate approaches. Any content generated should simultaneously be fed through social media channels to increase exposure. This can also help strengthen relationships with journalists, who will appreciate the promotion or publication of their work.

David can slay Goliath

Entrepreneurs can be young or old, but they will always bring the exuberance of youth to their work. They are full of ideas and talk with passion about their brand or product. This can be channelled through their communications to set themselves apart from more established businesses.

Larger companies have a tendency to pull good ideas apart to ensure that everyone in senior management is happy and minimise risk. A smaller start-up team can be bolder and more creative. It can take chances and have (almost) nothing to lose. Don’t be afraid to inject your personality into your content. Journalists trawl through hundreds of press releases on a weekly basis and even interesting stories will languish in their inboxes never to be seen again if they don’t grab attention instantly.

One crucial component in today’s communications armoury but often overlooked is SEO. Ensuring your content is search engine optimised is a must for every business and a great way for start-ups to gain ground on larger rivals. Google is the most important business publication on the planet and everything you publish online should be written with two thoughts in mind: how will my target audience react to this, and how will Google react to this? Naturally, SEO should never stifle creativity, but wherever possible, copy should include your company’s keywords and messaging.

Building a recognisable brand is a slow process and the steps I have just described are only the first of many to be taken on the long and winding road to success. However, by ensuring that your company’s messaging is strong, your story is interesting and that you stay competitive, your relationships with both your customers and journalists will blossom. And as your media profile grows, so will your sales figures.

Alistair Turner is managing director of Aspectus PR