Why Seed stage startups should save money on PR
When is the right time for startups to invest in PR? With a Seed round secured, focus turns immediately to the most pressing priorities and how to spend wisely to move the boat faster.
Honing a product that customers will buy from you and hiring the people to make that happen should be chief among them. Somewhere, usually high on the list for founders with serious ambition and expectant investors, PR will feature as part of the marketing mix.
And it should do - as the third party endorsement of a respected publication or journalist can help you secure the next round of funding, attract talented staff, and build the sales pipeline.
To punch above your weight you want to appear alongside your more established peers - the ones that raised their Seed a few years ago and are now working through their Series A or B. After all, your business exists because your peers haven’t quite nailed something in your market - the niche or USP that carries value for potential customers. If there’s something critical that your business offers and theirs doesn’t, why do they get all the press? It’s frustrating, right?
The value of PR
Brutally, the answer is, because they can afford it. They might not be better and almost certainly don’t solve the problem you’ve identified, but they have a PR agency or freelancer pulling for them, making sure they jump the queue to the media opportunities every publication offers.
This comes down to the relationships PR people have with journalists, who trust that they can provide them with efficient and high quality inputs for the articles they’re compiling. As a former business journalist of 20 years, who specialised in writing about startups and the entrepreneurs behind some of the best-known brands, I know this to be true.
With time of the essence, the fastest route to the best result is often necessary. That’s not to suggest journalists cut corners. Over many years they build up a vast book of good, reliable contacts - founders they’ve met at industry events, launches and awards. They also carry out desk research and pick up the phone, contacting businesses that will help them meet the Editor’s brief. And they democratically post #journorequests on social media.
But guess what? Even in those cases where journalists ‘circumvent’ PR people, most roads lead back there. Journalists will inevitably come across the founders running companies that have entered and been shortlisted for awards or who have been asked to speak at an event. More often than not, someone in PR will have helped to put them there - having written an excellent awards entry or speaker submission. And the desk research will lead them to stories that have been indexed by search engines and which feature the companies that have an agency doing their bidding. Even for social media, hungry PRs will be quick to spot and act on requests influential journalists post - not least because the majority of founders don’t have the time to monitor those too.
Punching above your weight
Given the odds are stacked against founders, how can you possibly hope to get cut-through and start to build a media profile? Surely it will cost you thousands of pounds - most decent agencies will charge upwards of £5,000 +VAT per month for a retainer and often more for short, focused projects.
That is why when I was asked to move to the ‘dark side’ of PR to create an affordable PR service for earlier stage companies, I said yes immediately. Much as I thrived on interviewing household name entrepreneurs, I equally loved ‘discovering’ the next exciting startup - and know many other tech and business journalists who feel the same way. FieldHouse BaseCamp, the service we created, promised that. Part of FieldHouse Associates’ offering, BaseCamp is a £99 +VAT service where the media opportunities the 25-strong agency generates for full-service clients, get passed on to members for them to act on.
That’s the big difference, but gives pre-Series A startups a fighting chance of getting cut-through at a fraction of the cost. Consider that for full-service expenditure you would be able to expect a focused team dedicated to a small number of clients who spend each month seeking out good media opportunities. In that scenario, they would do all the ‘heavy lifting’, such as articulating your views for comments and bylined articles or writing strong submissions about your business, based on the deep knowledge and messaging sessions they’ve carried out with you.
PRs get under the skin of your business to understand why the media should care about you. BaseCamp is more DIY. But the truth is, you have the answers - if you ask yourself the right questions. There are a few pointers to take on board though. First of all, appreciate that journalists are not there to repeat your marketing messages that tell the world how great you are. They are there to give their readers value and insight. You will be helpful if you can grasp WHY they should want to speak to you. So, if you try BaseCamp, you’ll want to work on answers to the following questions:
In simple terms, what do you do?
What problem are you solving - and how?
Where did the idea for your business come from?
What traction can you demonstrate?
What is going on that makes you relevant right now?
Who are your competitors and how are you different?
How do you make (or plan to make) money?
Think about what data or unique insight you have, based on the knowledge that led you to start your business. Support it with data - ideally your own - and anecdotal evidence that adds some colour and depth, while also helping to make your point clearer. And if you’re quick off the mark when an opportunity presents itself, you’ll stand a good chance. Finally be consistent and persistent - once you’ve got a clear and simple one-liner, a more detailed ‘about us’, and a small number of key messages you want to be known for, use them. You can’t expect to make it into the Financial Times before you’ve gained some traction and have the media profile that makes you credible. But you can start climbing the media ladder. And by doing so, the dream of coverage in a national newspaper - and achieving your next commercial objective - will be that little bit closer.