Just a PR Girl in a Startup World

Let’s start this in typical confession fashion.

Hi, my name is Darcy and I’m a public relations professional in a hot, mad love affair with startups. That’s right, startups. Tech startups, social good startups, any kind of startup really. When you think “startup” images of Zuckerberg, Uber and Silicon Valley probably flash before your eyes. You probably envision web developers, maybe even hackers. UX designers probably run a close 2nd, and throw in a little biz dev (a startup’s fancy way of saying “sales”) for good measure and you have the quintessential startup team. But what about public relations (PR)?

In a world where sincerity and job security are on the decline, startups give me a new sense of hope. To be a successful startup, there is a certain level of passion, dedication and sweat equity required. You can’t fake it to make it, because you simply won’t make it. The concept of creating something from scratch, out of an uncontrollable desire to make the world a better or more efficient place, is what I find so irresistible. I have yet to meet someone involved with startups that is not a genuinely good person, and the successful ones are usually kind with their time and paying it forward to the next generation of movers and shakers.

That being said, the female – male ratio in the startup world is already low, the PR girl one being even lower. And the fact of the matter is that PR is a female dominated industry. The startup industry? Not so much. The irony isn’t lost on me. Having a PR person on your startup team can make or break your business, but there seems to be a real lack of it in the industry. Attention is more on technical skills and getting your MVP ready, but who’s going to gain the exposure necessary once it is? These facts don’t turn me off of startups, but do single me out.

Here are some of the reasons why startups are so appealing to the PR professional in me:

  • Building Something from the Beginning

In PR, we’re always trying to find a new spin (pardon my French) on things. To be given a completely clean and blank slate, is like Christmas morning for us. The opportunity to create a logo, branding, voice, and everything from scratch is like a loot of gold to a passionate PR professional. Creating an online presence from nothing is hard and long work, but you know what? We don’t have to undo anyone else’s mistakes. It’s like a breathe of fresh air in a sometimes stuffy industry, and I absolutely adore breathing it in, slowly and repeatedly.

  • Creative Challenges

The problems and issues you are going to face with a startup are probably going to be new ones. They might be varied, random and diverse, but never boring. They will get your mind working in ways it probably hasn’t in a while, and you have to factor in a lot of things you might not have had to before. It will be challenging, but the rewarding kind of challenging that will make you a better PR professional because of it.

  • They Need Our Help the Most

The downside to having so many technical people on one team is that you can create an amazing product, but how are you going to get the word out? PR is crucial to startups, especially in the initial phases. There is so much more at stake and you feel your successes more when working with startups. Gaining that traction and a prominent feature can make the difference in interest from investors and VCs, and from working out of your parent’s basement to an actual office. The stakes are high, but when you do win, there is nothing like seeing the real value of your work on a startup’s brand and bank account.

I don’t only think that the startup world can learn a little something from the PR industry, I daresay the tables could also be turned. I apply a lot of my startup personality and passion to my PR work. It allows me to have a much more raw and genuine approach to my business. As I mentioned earlier, you can’t fake it to make it in startups, and in PR there unfortunately is a huge stigma for just that.

3 things PR professionals can learn from startups:

  • Harness your raw passion: in PR you have to be the #1 cheerleader for your brand, remind yourself of the initial reasons you got excited about that client and what they are doing and let that shine through your work. How will they believe in something if you don’t believe in it yourself? Your audience will respond to sincerity.
  • Bootstrap, bootstrap, bootstrap: pay more attention to where you are actually spending your budget vs. where you should be. Clients will appreciate your understanding of their finances. Remember, PR is about cultivating relationships with your audience; it’s not marketing or sales so traditional marketing means (and dollars) may not be necessary.
  • It’s all about the team: many would agree that a great team far outweighs a great idea when it comes to startups; This applies to PR as well. If your team isn’t on the same page or has the same goals for your client, it is impossible to work in unity, and therefore impossible to strategically achieve your goals. If there isn’t consistency behind the scenes, how can they expect consistency and harmony in their branding and with their audience?

Communications is usually the name of my game, but I’ll gladly hang up my hat, or at least wear a more creative one, to play in the startup world for a while, and hopefully convince more PR girls (and boys) to do so as well. The relationship between public relations and startups may not be an obvious one, but it’s an important one.

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3 Things No One Ever Told Me About Being an Entrepreneur

To be perfectly honest and transparent, the list is probably actually a heck of a lot longer than 3, but for the sake of this blog post not turning into a book, let’s keep it to the main 3 that have been on my mind as of late. I like to think I’ve learned a lot on this roller coaster ride called entrepreneurship thus far, and I’ve read a lot on the subject as well. There are many common struggles that we all seem to face, but here are my current 3 that no one seems to be talking about:

  • You’re going to feel like crap

Calling all you 9-5ers. Please take a moment to think about your current position. Are you qualified for that position or it’s in your field of study/expertise? Probably. When I first began my entrepreneurial endeavor, I was aware that having your own business meant dealing with all aspects of the brand. What I wasn’t prepared for though, was to feel like crap. Unless you have a degree in marketing, business, accounting, communications, law, software engineering AND management, you aren’t qualified to be an entrepreneur. (If you do have all of those degrees I would REALLY love to meet you, and you better be some kind of superstar start up mastermind.) There is a lot of stepping out of your comfort zone (and areas of expertise) in entrepreneurship, and when you do this repeatedly what does it result in? Ideally, it’ll eventually lead to a) improving and broadening your skill set, but most likely immediately in b) you feeling like crap. Again, I’d like to reference all you 9-5ers. Would your boss ever walk in to your office and be like “I know you’re in marketing, but right now the business really needs to focus on web development, sooo…we’re going to need you to go ahead and do that.” You’d probably pick up your severance package faster than he could get the words out of his mouth. In entrepreneurship, this is a daily struggle, and it’s not easy. You are constantly responsible for doing something you don’t like and are probably not very good at, and that takes it’s toll on the ego.

  • You don’t have to be working 24/7

But you do have to be thinking about it 24/7. What do I mean by this? Well, in order to be a successful entrepreneur, I think you have to be at least mildly obsessive. You have to be somewhat compulsive in constantly thinking about how to build something, make something better, improve an industry etc. Usually, the typical characteristic of an entrepreneur is someone who just can’t get the wheels to stop running in their brain, they can’t turn it off, maybe even have trouble winding down and falling asleep. I know that all the above applies to me. What happens when you are thinking about something 24/7 and you’re an entrepreneur? Well, you feel the need and responsibility to be working on it 24/7. I mean, if it’s on your mind all the time you should be constantly working on it as well, right? Wrong. Ever heard of “working smarter, not harder”? This really does ring true, and it’s taken me a few years to realize this. In fact, I found that once I took the pressure off to be working all day, every day simply because my mind was running all day, everyday, I became more efficient and produced better work. Would you look at that? I love this whole “Thrive” movement that Arianna Huffington created because I really do believe the best thing you can do for your business is to take care of yourself. I’ve started doing yoga regularly and carving out time to simply think, and the effects have been nothing short of successful. If you are the type to constantly be thinking up new ideas, that’s great, keep doing that. I advise you to keep your mind creative, but what I don’t advise is to allot all that time to working time. It is crucial to take time to simply think and reflect. Personally, my best ideas come when I’m in yoga, taking a shower, walking the dog (a.k.a doing something completely unrelated to work).

  • One is the loneliest number

One of the reasons I chose entrepreneurship is because I loved the concept of creating something out of nothing. I’m completely infatuated with the idea of being able to create something in your mind and follow it through to tangible conception. I created Bowda alone, basically because I had the idea by myself and just ran with it. I went out on a limb, and in the beginning I had chosen sole proprietorship by choice (or lack there of), but when I started thinking about the direction I wanted to take Bowda in, I soon realized two heads are much, much better than one. I work best when I have someone else to bounce ideas off of, inspire and motivate me. I’ve been open, even eager, to partner since the get go. And what has happened? I daresay it’s harder to find a partner than finding “the one”, because at least you can be blinded by love in your search for your soul mate. In business, you never, ever settle for less. I’ve had one close call, where I’ve been burned, but otherwise I haven’t found anyone else even close to having the drive and level of commitment I do. At this point I think I’m more likely to land a unicorn. I constantly attend start up and entrepreneurship events, surround myself with passionate people, yet this seems to be a reoccurring issue for me, and I doubt I’m the only one. When I first started entertaining the idea of entrepreneurship, I did my research like a good girl, yet I never, ever imagined that my single largest obstacle would be to find a partner. There are a lot of articles out there telling you what to look for in a potential partner, but none outline how difficult it is to actually encounter one.

So, to sum up, we’ve got 1) failure, 2) running yourself ragged, and 3) the importance of a team. Maybe this really is just like every single other entrepreneurial article out there.

In all seriousness, these are 3 things I’ve really been struggling with lately, both professionally and personally. If you’ve encountered any of these as well, I’d love to hear from you! And if you haven’t, I’ll gladly listen to your entrepreneurial issues. Hey, that’s what the start up circle is for!

I open the floor to you, my fellow founders: what have been your recent struggles with entrepreneurship?