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  • How every startup needs to think about PR


    4 min to read by Rebekah Iliff
    Published on April 7, 2015

    Every once in a great while you come across a human who quite literally exudes passion from every ounce of their being. Even if they tried, they wouldn’t be able to contain their excitement and zeal for life.

    They are a rare find, so when you do encounter them it’s highly likely you will want to do one, some, or all of the following:

    1. Capture them and study their every move in order to understand what, exactly, makes them tick.
    2. Ask them a million questions to see if you can throw them off their game.
    3. Poke them to see if they’re real…or just a big, fake phony.
    4. Clandestinely stalk them to either confirm or deny that they sleep on an alien space ship at night.
    5. Spend as much time with them (without it being awkward) so that you can absorb some of their passion-y goodness.

    Jenn Hirsch, founder of MarkedPoint, is one of these unicorns I describe above. After finally getting over the fact that I will NEVER – I MEAN NEVER – be capable of meeting her toe to toe for outward facing passion (inside I’m bubbling over, I swear), I accepted the defeat and decided instead to enjoy our dynamic for what it was: two gals mildly obsessed with educating the world on how to make PR better. From startups to Fortune 500s, we’ve discussed it all.

    So when Jenn agreed to pony up a guest post for our blog, we couldn’t have been more thrilled. We hope you can absorb some of her PR passion, and take to heart her great insights…particularly if you are a startup!

    How every startup needs to think about PR

    When you’re a part of young company, ‘the grind’ shifts from doing the same thing day in and day out to constantly being asked to do a different (and often seemingly impossible) things day in and day out.

    As those of us in the trenches can attest, every day in a fledging venture brings more chaos and more opportunity. Hiring the right support system is vital to organizing the chaos – and a great PR team can help do just that.

    So how do you create a coherent communications strategy with your PR firm to make your new ventures stand out from the crowd?

    First, accept the 3 challenges of startup PR:

    1. Your PR needs will change roughly every 3 months along with your business

    This is the golden rule. Your business – and your needs – will change every 3 months because you are constantly learning, growing, testing, and refining. Because PR constantly communicates this growth to the outside world of partners, consumers and investors, you are going to need a team and strategy that can adjust to your needs.

    2. There is a short attention span for “new”

    Why do you think we get a new iPhone model every year? We are conditioned to look at for the latest, hottest and biggest news in our culture. Especially in startup land where fortunes are made (and ruined) in years, not decades. Your audience(s) needs to have new information on what you’re up to to keep you top of mind.

    3. Your competition is hot on your heels

    If you have a great idea, you can bet others are chasing after the same one. With their ideas competing for attention, you need to stay focused and have a clear message so your audience knows why to choose you over others.

    Second, understand the impact these strategies have on your PR:

    If your PR needs change every 3 months…you still have to “feed the beast”

    Imagine your PR team is a giant dragon that you need to feed “news” in order for it to breathe fire. More news, more fire. Your PR team needs to have your company’s newest information and announcements in an accurate and timely manner. If they do not have new content, they cannot seed it out to the appropriate, interested outlets.

    If audiences have short attention spans…you need to create compelling content

    People love an entertaining story, as evidenced by the continuing popularity of celebrity mags at checkout counters and soap operas in nearly every country. So be your own damn soap opera! Your product can’t speak for itself, so empower your customers to be your voice. You have to view every interaction as an opportunity to tell your story because nothing works like word of mouth marketing.

    If competition is hot on your heels…you need a focused, consistent, differentiated story

    Not just any story will do. It has to be deeply authentic, very relatable, and emotionally appealing. And perhaps most importantly, your story needs to be targeted at your specific audience. Your narrative also must be consistent. It’s ok if details of the story change, as long as you have a consistent core.

    Finally, work to provide adequate support for your PR team:

    Communicate clearly, timely and succinctly

    PR should be the first to know what’s going on as they are managing it, massaging it, and editing it for your target audiences’ consumption. When brand image crises arise, your PR team should be brought in immediately as they are experts in this arena. There should be open and timely communication because without it, you won’t be able to adequately address backlash or mitigate crises.

    Know what content works and tell your story as many ways as possible  

    Data and experimentation are to PR what hacking is to coding. You need to experiment with content in order to gauge success and replicate it over time. I once pitched a company 6 ways to 378 people at SxSW to test which message resonated most. What emerged was the key company tag line, which we continued to use and eventually resulted in the company’s successful acquisition.

    Remember that above all, PR is about relationships

    Data shows you what works, but really it’s always about the people behind the numbers and what they think and feel about you and your brand. PR is a human discipline. Even if you never see your customers, you are having a very real impact on people making decisions. Use your intuition and emotional intelligence to walk in their shoes and then connect to them in real human ways.

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    Jenn Hirsch headshot

    Photo by Brandon Smith

    About Jenn Hirsch

    Jennifer Hirsch, Wharton MBA, is the founder of Marked Point, a strategic storytelling firm committed to building vibrant, engaged communities to foster early growth for healthcare & wellness-focused organizations. She believes that making small changes — both in business and in life — lead to explosive and exponential growth. After years immersed in startup culture, Jennifer understands the intricacies and processes that founders and new ventures alike face. Jennifer’s ultimate goal is to utilize business to create true impact and meaning in the world.

    Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJHirsch.

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