Being part of a startup is complicated. There’s a lot of conflicting priorities, lots to think about. PR is not always top of mind for most entrepreneurs who are busy trying to get their businesses off the ground. Here Deborah Gray, who founded Canela Public Relations 12 years ago, shares some of her insights into the “communications sins” made by startups when it comes to dealing with PR agencies.
7 deadly communications sins committed by startups
1. Thinking that PR is the same as advertising.
The most fundamental piece of advice I can give to anyone with a startup is do not confuse PR with advertising. I realise it all sounds the same and comes under that vaguely wishy-washy concept of marketing but the two things are not the same. Public Relations takes its value from the fact that there is a third party, a journalist or an influencer, evaluating, fact-checking and writing about a company based on information provided either written or via an interview. Advertising is when a company directly buys the space in the media and gets to say whatever its likes about itself with no filter (apart from decency standards).
2. Assuming that if you can’t measure it – it isn’t valuable.
With SEO and Social Media there are metrics coming out of your ears its very tempting for startups to trust in or invest in what can be easily measured. However, if somebody reads something about your product or service in the media there is simply no way of measuring how many of their friends and colleagues they told about it, or how it influenced their purchase decision. They may have chosen to go out and buy the product or service immediately or they may be waiting for their next pay day to do so or maybe they will never buy it but that’s not something that can get captured in an excel.
3. Saying “We’re a startup so we haven’t got much budget”
If I had a € for every time I had heard that from a startup “we’re a startup so we haven’t got much budget “ I would be writing this article from my private Island in the Caribbean. I have a very healthy respect for entrepreneurs. I admire their creativity, their bravery, I too have set up a company, so I can also sympathise with a limited set of resources. That said, no PR company is going to be inspired to bring their best people or ideas to the table if startups come to them in the belief that they are somehow owed something by virtue of the fact they are a startup. Inspire us with your project, make us your first ambassadors and we will go that extra mile for you. If your resources are limited, and let’s face it, whose aren’t, then let us advise you on the best way to spend them.
4. Being obsessed with the competition
This is a phenomenon amongst startups which I find really fascinating. Most of the startups I’ve worked with are obsessed to the point of psychotic lunacy about what the competition are doing and I have no idea why that is the case. It’s obviously very important to keep an eye on your competition. It’s important to know what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with, what their spokespeople are saying and what share of voice they have in the media compared to you, but beyond that “please relax”. If you spend too much time worrying about the competition you will become a follower and not a leader.
5. Being short-sighted
Many, many startups come to us and ask for us to create a communications campaign for a trial period of 3 months or less. To which we say “sorry, but no”. What we do in public relations is we create awareness, this takes time and like weight loss there are simply no shortcuts or overnight successes. It takes at least three months of regular communication with journalists before you can begin to see results. Journalists need time to understand what it is you’re offering and why it is newsworthy for their readers.
6. Neglecting the importance of the local market
Technology means that a startup can go global in the blink of an eye. That’s very exciting. But for now most of the media is national, so what journalists want are national stories with national statistics told by national spokespeople. There’s no shame in saying we’re a Spanish startup with global ambitions it’s much more likely to get coverage than we’re an international startup.
7. Wanting the front page
In the 12 years that Canela PR has been in operation we have never got a client on the front page of El País. Not once. Once we got our client Getty Images on the back page but that’s another story. The front page is not there for stories about startups. It’s for international and national stories usually politics or disasters and it is very rare to see a brand or a company mentioned on the front page of the newspaper in a positive way.
So I hope this has been a helpful recap of some of the things to take into account when considering investing in Public Relations. Here at Canela we have worked among other startups with Adyen, Azimo, Carnovo, Finanzarel, Idapt, Privalore, Vinted or Zity and it’s been a great experience. We love working with startups, we love their energy, their bravery and we forgive them their sins too.