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A startup, just like any other company, should do PR — it can pay off big by attracting new customers, partners, investors and talents. In general, founders realize the impact of communications on their businesses, but some of them still consider being their own publicists.
Indeed, some entrepreneurs are capable of doing public relations themselves because they understand how communications and mass media work, but they are honestly a rare find.
Eagerness to implement do-it-yourself PR often rests upon the desire to save a limited budget, mixed with beliefs that “PR is easy” and founders understand how to represent their company better than anyone else. Unfortunately, the outcomes of DIY PR may contradict these best intentions. There are many nuances about approaching journalists that startup founders just don’t conceive of, let alone the fact that PR work takes them off things they really should be doing — operating the business.
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What can go wrong
Misunderstanding the way PR works leads to mistakes and unjustified loss of time. The most common problems here are:
Entrepreneurs don’t understand what’s newsworthy and what’s not. As a result, they spam journalists with information that has no value and zero chances to get published. One should understand the news to be in the news, and it requires research, experience and effort.
They are unaware of how journalists work. Reporters aren’t a ruck of people who do the same things. They are individuals who are interested in particular topics and angles — even in a narrow field — and require a thoughtful and personal approach. It’s necessary to take time and familiarize yourself with all the journalists who may be interested in your story and find the right ones among them.
Founders have no idea how to pitch correctly. Consequently, they mass email random journalists with hastily written letters and obscure subject headlines. Being brief, clear and to the point is a must for those who want to get noticed by reporters.
They aggressively demand publications to be exactly as they want them to be. Sometimes founders mistakenly see news outlets as advertising platforms and insist on adding links to the company’s website, including marketing information and usage of certain words. Not only does it not help to get it published, but it may also spoil an entrepreneur’s reputation among journalists for good.
They don’t take time to prepare for interviews if they manage to land one. Consequently, entrepreneurs don’t give journalists what they want and fetch up no publication, or give reporters wrong ideas about the business and its founder and end up with disastrous feature material.
They don’t think about the audience of the media outlets. Founders may want to speak about their product only, when in reality it’s necessary to talk about the product in connection with the audience’s needs, worries and problems. You have to adapt to the readership of each media outlet you want to be in. Frankly, PR requires a lot of research, empathy and ingenuity.
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The disappointing results and how to avoid them
PR can help a startup grow, bring in more revenue and establish a strong HR brand. But with DIY PR, these benefits are hard to achieve. By becoming their own publicist, founders waste enormous amounts of time and energy while focusing less on their own company. The truth is, no work can be properly done by someone who keeps several plates spinning at once.
Sooner or later, entrepreneurs become disappointed in the results of DIY PR and turn to PR firms and consultants or hire an in-house PR manager. Good if it happens before the company’s or its founder’s reputation is blown away, because even a highly-skilled public relations expert may not be able to persuade journalists to publish a story about someone they don’t take seriously.
PR is a lot of work. In this field, one should constantly be in the news flow and in contact with reporters, watch out for trends, generate ideas and be alert in case of journalists’ inquiries. By delegating this job, founders are much more likely to get the outcome they want without the probability to lose focus on what they are indispensably competent at — running a company.
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