PR the Start-up

I remember the start-up days. No clients, no revenues – nothing but ideas and time. Because BlabberMouth was founded three weeks after 9/11, there weren’t even any prospective budgets out there. Born to practice PR, I became a self-proclaimed PR Diva and Publicity Maven. I threw myself into the company. I spent all my time – and I mean ALL my time – promoting. I networked until I thought my high-heeled feet would break at the ankles. I passed business cards like candy on Halloween. I worked pro bono accounts in exchange for testimonials and references and I told the BlabberMouth story to anyone who would listen. I was focused and energetic - - ready to take as many no’s as necessary to get to yes.

Imagine the PR nightmare for the multitude of start-ups whose focus and core competencies are not in public relations. They are remarkable individuals with no clue when it comes to blowing their own horn. Their products are yet unproven, sometimes in new market niches, and they are viewed by all with utter skepticism.

Their PR plan is niente. Fortunately, there are options. 1) They can become their own PR manager, in which case focus is deviated from the very reason they went into business in the first place. 2) They can hire in-house, which is an overhead that is not comfortable for most start-ups. Or 3) They can outsource. Option three is the obvious choice. It can also be a choice that overwhelms, if not administered correctly.

Start-ups need grassroots, feet-on-the-street tactical PR with a layering of strategic initiatives wrapped into a tidy, affordable package. Taking its roots from political movements, grassroots PR is a series of natural yet spontaneous activities undertaken on the community level. Grassroots initiatives deal with the public at large in a simple, manageable, ‘close to home’ manner. Developing a unity of ideas through networking, distributing information via newsletter, blogging or other means takes little money, but a substantial amount of time.

On the other hand, there are multiple benefits of strategic PR, not least of which are thought-leader positioning and influencing public perception on a higher level. Distributing information and being noticed is not enough. There must be a concerted, continual effort to maintain positive, self-sustaining relationships with the people who influence the company’s revenue streams. This is put into practice via educational articles, speaking opportunities and quoted commentary. Tougher to put into play, but a very wise pursuit.

Before approaching a PR firm, start-up execs should take a really hard look at their business objectives, their target audiences, competitive advantages and their current financial situation. For all the good that PR can create, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and consistency, and it ain’t cheap. A great first step might be to hire a freelancer or someone who can implement a tactical campaign. The strategic piece is better when the product or service is perfected and there are clients on board.

Fortunately for most companies, start-up does not last forever.


Patti D. Hill is the founder and CEO of Penman PR, Inc., one of the most innovative independent PR firms in the nation and the only international public relations firm to offer 100% senior-level representation. In addition to overseeing client services, talent management and business development for Penman, Patti is the lead instructor for the firm's training division, Penman PR Training Institute.

Prior to Penman, Patti was the founding partner of BlabberMouth PR and its subsidiary, Cameron...

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