When’s a good time to invest in PR

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Written by Rebecca Oatley, Owner and Managing Director at Cherish PR.

You know the moment when the blood, sweat and tears of incubation finally result in a business. You stand proudly with that giant pair of scissors ready to cut the ribbon and welcome customers into your new venture. Thanks to the PR agency, the cameras snap and when the image hits the rolling presses, the floodgates open for customers to pour in.

This seems old-fashioned but it reflects the point at which many start-ups decide to invest in PR – at launch - and yet PR can support a business way before the metaphorical ribbon is cut, or is often most effective way after that first day.

So when is the right time to invest in PR?

In simple terms, this depends on who you need to reach. PR or public relations, is all about building awareness and generating trust and credibility with your company’s key audiences. Now that may be customers but it can also be investors, suppliers, partners or even internal audiences. In building awareness, understanding and interest amongst these groups, PR encourages them to invest their time, money or resources in what you are trying to achieve. So the first question to ask is who am I trying to communicate to and what do I want them to do.

Once you have decided who your primary audiences are and understand what you want them to do, you can then identify what you need to do to communicate to them. For example, if you have a highly niche product serving a specific audience, then you may already know most of the people who are likely to buy your product. You don’t need a big media relations campaign here, but you may simply need some help with how to create your story, how to pitch your audiences in a way that’s relevant and interesting to them. This is PR but it needs to happen as part of your product development, so that it is intrinsic in the way that you present your product, throughout your web and social presence and in the way that you, as founder, present to all of your publics, from suppliers to investors. Its PR long before that ribbon is officially cut.

Most early-stage businesses approach my UK PR agency because they want to build awareness of their offering. They are looking for in-bound enquiries and in more competitive markets, they want to stand out from the competition. They want to engage the media and influencers and for the resulting publicity to drive new sales leads. Well, the great news is that today’s PR is more effective at fulfilling these goals than ever before. Whilst we may want to show the article in the Daily Mail to our mum, the best coverage today is online.  Most online articles stay up and complete with good messages, a call to action and if possible a link.  These articles can work hard to drive interest and traffic long after a newspaper hits the recycling bin. Begin by focusing online because this coverage will work hard to support your business in its early stages.

Nobody wants to be alone. So don’t make the mistake of publicising your business too early, particularly if it requires an exchange between two participants (peer-to-peer). If you are on a sale site and there are no sellers, you feel disappointed and will leave. In these cases, publicising your business too early can be really damaging. Make sure that you build an initial customer base before telling the broader market about it.  The great news is that in today’s tech-driven world, there is always BETA, and your offering can be in BETA or trial period for months whilst you build users, test the technology and only then officially launching the service to the media. You want the influencers to have the best experience possible and write the best reviews, so make sure you’re presenting the best possible version of your business and not how it looks with no customers on day one.

Finally, it’s worth noting that good PR is carried out by highly-skilled practitioners and therefore it’s not cheap. As an early stage business, it’s important to look at the priorities for spending. You may wish to build initial customers through less expensive channels, paid social for example, before using PR to broaden reach when the business is looking for major awareness and a scale of growth. Or it may be that as a business you wish to invest in getting the brand and communications right at the outset, investing in an experienced practitioner initially to craft the strategy and plan, before bringing in an in-house team to execute. Reach out to a few agencies that operate in your space and explain your business and requirements to them. The best ones will give you valuable feedback and make recommendations as to when you should employ PR and how much to invest.

And if any PR comes back with the recommendation of cutting a ribbon with a giant pair of scissors, send them to me.