7 common PR mistakes startup founders make as they scale

The Scale-Up Institute estimates that the UK's 34,000 scaleups contribute £1.2 million in turnover and employ 3 million+ people, making these businesses incredibly important for our economy. But as a startup transitions to a scaleup, its brand and business become increasingly visible, so knowing how to behave and communicate is integral to keeping the business operating and thriving.

When you’re a startup, being scrappy with your comms is somewhat acceptable. But as you scale, audiences expect more from you and your approach to communication. In my 24+ year career in PR and communication, I’ve offered strategic counsel to many scaling companies, and have my own first-hand experience of growing two businesses from startup to scaleup and beyond, first with impactasia (acquired in 2011 by Cohn & Wolfe), and now with AMBITIOUS PR, which is on its own fast growth journey.

Below are seven common PR and communications mistakes that founders can make as they grow their business from startup to scaleup, and how to avoid them.

Losing sight of your message

You and your current team inherently know what sets you apart from the competition, the USPs you bring to your clients/customers and what differentiates you as a business. But you are now hiring a lot of people and you are changing quickly. Articulate core messages, get them written down, bring them to life with stories so you can embed them in all your comms across all channels. Get your new people to constantly stress test them and challenge you on them so they evolve as you grow.

Failing to prepare for scrutiny

Any business scaling fast, seeking repeat investment, and having success, is likely to face more scrutiny than in startup mode so invest in issues preparedness to ensure any communication risks have been mapped out and that draft responses and approaches are considered. Explore how other brands have successfully handled crisis communication to help you plan ahead.

Not making time for PR

As your remit grows, recognise you still have a significant role to play in your PR operations. The personal brand of leaders has never been more powerful. Garner support of others, but appear on that podcast, write that LinkedIn post, speak at that event, and meet that journalist for a coffee. It may feel like there are many pulls on your time but the power of PR to elevate you and your business should never be underestimated. PR can also be a good way to galvanise your people around a goal. Publicly saying in your trade, national or local media, or your own channels your purpose and your plans can be a way to unite your team. Putting something out into the world focuses the mind!

Leaving PR outside of the boardroom

In startup mode, you may have patched together PR support – hiring freelance talent or home-growing skills. As you scale, you need a trusted advisor who is across all your communication. Give them a seat at the table and the job of managing your corporate reputation. PR includes many skills and talents, and the industry is developing and changing quickly. If they say they need resource or outside expertise, then let them make the case for it.

Neglecting your clients as you change and evolve

You might be excited about fast-track success but don’t lose sight of the customers and clients that got you this far. Take them on the journey with you through your communication and check in with them. Have a specific comms strategy for your ‘originals’.

Not giving serious consideration to your stakeholders

The grit, determination, and long days that got you to where you are now may not be enough to get you to the next stage. Map the industry people, groups (formal and informal), and associations that you need to be plugged into to help ease your path. Work out how to invest in your industry to move it in a direction that supports your goals.

Taking your eye off the ball with talent

As a startup, you may have flown under the radar on review sites such as Glassdoor or you may have been able to provide such attention and care to your small team that they’ve never had a reason to be riled. As you scale, managing everyone’s experience of working for you will become more challenging. Invest in employee communications and monitor and analyse data to ensure you maintain your founder-led culture at a grassroots level.

Take a look at our latest whitepaper for more communications and reputational need-to-knows to mitigate business 'growing pains', so founders and leadership teams can focus on attracting funding and investment.