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.