Seven tips for a startup founder to raise awareness
Where, what, and how to ensure that your startup is talked about? Do you require TechCrunch publications to make your company successful? How do you measure the effectiveness of your PR?
These are questions that concern many entrepreneurs. Alexandra Govorukha, the head of International PR at Sigma Software Group, answers them in her article below. Shall we begin?
Set clear goals
All PR should work for your objectives. Moreover, the goal shouldn’t be something vague, like ‘I want to be famous.’ Every goal should be specific, measurable, clear, achievable, and realistic. A PR goal is no exception. It should support your business goals and work towards attaining them. It is also important to set a time frame for your goals. A large goal can be broken down into smaller ones, depending on your startup's planning horizon.
Try to maintain focus as much as possible during the initial stages. For example, when deciding on geography, you shouldn’t aim for the whole of Europe – Europe is a large place, and your efforts, limited by both budget and resources, will have less of an impact than if you focus on, say, the countries of Northern Europe or, for example, specifically on Finland.
Do your homework
Preparation is something you should never neglect. This holds true for your PR strategy as well. When you have determined your goals and focus, take a look at the market and examine the features and players already there. Be sure to do your research, as it’s something you can do on your own. The research should include:
- A list of your main competitors, who they are, what they say about themselves, and what users say about them
- A definition of your audience. The channels and communication tools you use will depend on who your audience is. Just because your startup appeared on TechCrunch or Forbes doesn't always guarantee that you'll get noticed. If your audience doesn't read these publications, you won't reach them that way, and your efforts will be wasted
- Identify the communication channels that are popular in this market and among your audience. Find out what they read, what they watch, and where they spend their free time
- Familiarise yourself with professional communities, business associations, prizes, and awards in your industry. These can be additional communication channels and places where you can find your audience, including potential investors, partners, or users
Furthermore, young businesses often lack a well-formulated, unique selling point or unique value proposition that allows consumers to understand why they should buy your product. To this end, it’s important to take note of what your competitors say about themselves, so that you can correctly emphasise the features of your product that will draw attention to it.
Start communicating as early as possible
Quite often, I notice that Ukrainian founders have the desire to delve too deeply into the technical side of a product. This is precisely what, according to the observations of many foreign journalists, sets Eastern European startups apart from American startups. The latter often have better marketing, that is, they see their most important task as launching sales and attracting investments.
Ukrainians, on the contrary, have the desire to perfect the technical aspects of a project. While doing that, they don’t go on the air, don’t communicate with potential customers, and investors, and, therefore, receive no feedback from the market. If you’ve founded a startup, don't focus solely on product development. Think about how to promote and sell it, go on the air with it, collect feedback from the audience, and understand what people want, whether they need your product as it is, whether it needs to be changed, and how. This way, you can bring in investments and attract your first customers at the product development stage, which will help you to complete it faster.
Use each and every PR opportunity
Many people still believe that PR is limited to media publications alone. However, this is only one of the many PR tools available, and there are a lot of opportunities that should be taken advantage of. These tools can be grouped into several large blocks:
- Brand activation on social networks. According to reports compiled by global analytical agencies, almost 60% of the world's population uses social networks, and, on average, everyone spends at least 2.5 hours a day using them. The specific social networks and formats to be used by your brand depend on the preferences of your audience and region, so research these in advance
- Tech events that bring your audience together. These may include start-up contests, hackathons, conferences, educational tours, and acceleration programs. For example, the Web Summit allows start-ups to apply for a booth and get a spot at the summit, participate in pitches to investors, and be selected to pitch on the main stage on the final day of the event. In addition to a booth, the team gets three tickets to the summit and has an opportunity to schedule useful meetings and be inspired by interesting content
- Rankings, prizes, and awards that have a good reputation and can help promote your business
- Bloggers and opinion leaders are often more influential than traditional media outlets as channels of communication. If your audience is among their followers, find a way to work with influencers to help raise the awareness of your product and increase sales
- Collaborations with famous brands and joint projects with well-known companies and incubators help to promote a startup just by having their logos in the ‘Partners’ section of your website, let alone with the new opportunities that they’ll open up. For example, the Sigma Software Labs business incubator founded by our company provides mentoring support, office space and infrastructure, a wide network of investors, and a certain credibility that is very important for any startup at an early stage. Create win-win partnerships where you’ll provide your partners with some non-monetary benefit. Consider whether you can get them interested in your product, and how to get a foothold in the media from them.
There may be more communication channels than those listed above, so your task is to find those most efficient for you and start using them.
Avoid splashing out too much
Many believe that PR is very expensive, too costly for a startup to afford. Of course, you will have to invest resources and funds. You can’t expect it to work with no expenditure whatsoever. PR, however, can be inexpensive, as long as you approach it intelligently.
Since startups don’t, as a rule, have large budgets, but need quick results, you shouldn’t spend money on large-scale and expensive activities. They usually lack a clear target because their audiences can be quite diverse, and only give worthwhile results in the long term. To fit small budgets and get quick results, look towards industry-specific, focused activities and niche events. An important disclaimer – never pay for media publications. It’s better to make your content interesting and useful, then the media will want to post it on their own. Read more about this below.
Create content that engages the audience
So, you have decided to write an article that you would like to publish in a well-known media outlet. News like "We are a startup that develops such a product" or "We opened a new office" are of absolutely no interest to anyone except you. Why would a journalist publish it? What is the value of this publication for the audience? What should change after it’s been read? Ask yourself these questions before tasking your publicist with writing an article or starting to write it yourself. There are lots of recommendations for creating engaging content, but most of them boil down to the following:
- You can create interesting content when you know your audience – their struggles and preferences. Talk about solving a problem for your users/media consumers. Use different content formats, such as infographics, animated illustrations, GIFs, videos, and audio podcasts
- Trends, the latest curiosities, and whatever the current hype is always attract a lot of attention. Do your own research, reports, reviews, and surveys with results. This can be wrapped in infographics or illustrations so that the content is easy to understand and people are eager to share it
- Content that includes well-known brands and big names, scandals, big money, and life-changing innovations catches the attention of both journalists and audiences alike
- It is important to avoid unfounded claims and to support your text with statistics, research facts, and real-life cases. Journalists love evidence, so provide it and don’t make them go looking for it themselves
- Save the journalist's time and don’t write long letters about your article. Form a clear and concise message about for whom and what the article is, give a point-by-point description of it, and provide links to the text. It's great if you find a connection between your topic and another article by this journalist/publication, or topics that are currently trending
Measure and have a flexible approach
Not measuring the effectiveness of PR often leaves people thinking that ‘nobody knows about us,’ because there is nothing to base any conclusions on. Metrics are often expensive, so startups try to avoid carrying out measurements. But refusing to use them all together is a bad idea. You must analyse the results of your PR activities, otherwise, you won’t understand whether you are moving in the right direction.
If you feel that there are problems with brand awareness, analyse whether you are communicating with your chosen audience and on which media platforms you are doing this (perhaps it’s overloaded, so you’ll need to either increase intensity or find other channels of communication).
Operate with specific numbers to avoid subjectivity. Look at the number and quality of publications, what kind of reach they have, whether your audience on social networks is growing, whether the number of Google queries is increasing, and, of course, whether the number of users is growing. Tie your activities to results that contribute to your business goals. For example, the number of times your application has been downloaded or subscribed for a demo version of your product. Compare the numbers you obtained with your goals after PR activities, draw conclusions, and if necessary, change the approaches used.
It is worth remembering one more point. Quite often PR has a delayed effect, that is, the result may not be apparent immediately, so you should carry out measurements on a regular basis and at appropriate intervals.
So, in order to get your startup known, clearly define your goals, study your competitors, delve into the preferences and struggles of your audience, choose the right communication channels, and communicate messages that include your unique value proposition.