Why start-ups need PR power amid the IPO rush and Unicorn surge

Home to 51 Unicorns, India has become the third largest ecosystem in the world today. As per media reports, India’s Unicorns are valued at $168 billion. While the pandemic and lockdowns disrupted businesses, start-ups thrived during these challenging times, in fact, India saw as many as 11 Unicorns during the pandemic times, as per industry reports.

With more start-ups poised to enter the billion-dollar club and gearing up for their IPOs, it has become imperative that they guard their reputations and images as competition heats up. Hence, time has come for start-ups to draw up a well-constructed PR and communication strategy. With infusion of funds, they can draw up a budget to drive their PR strategy, which is as important as their advertising budgets. However, there is also a word of caution here for start-ups when they try to build their brand through PR. Overnight miracles do not happen as PR is a long drawn process and one requires to have loads of patience to see the results.

Need for PR for Start-ups

PR with a purpose and well-defined strategy is paramount to build a good reputation for start-up at the market place. Again, the need of PR will depend on the kind of product category the start up is involved. If it is a start up in the FMCG space then you would need more of mass media reach communication campaign which will be supported by PR. However, if it is a tech brand and you are a B2B brand then the role of PR is very important as you have to send your message to a well-defined audience using the right media channels. Most start-ups especially in the tech space believe and trusts a lot on PR as technology selling needs lot of education and one has to demystify the jargon and talk in plain, simple and uncomplicated language. Besides that, entrepreneurs in start ups commence their operations with few people and hence they will rely a lot on external PR consultants to move fast in the business. 

Role of a PR partner

So, when exactly a start-up looks for a trusted PR partner? Well, the answer is simple: before they need one. While the PR partner can help you construct your messages and advice you from time to time but it is more crucial for the start-ups to define their PR objectives and their key stakeholders and audience to arrive at the right communication strategy. Choosing a PR partner is also a challenge for the start- ups but it will be easier if the objectives and expectations are clearly stated before searching a PR and communication partner. So once there is clarity on that front it will be able to identify the right PR partner who will advice and guide from time to on the messaging and overall media strategy to get your message across to the right audience that you want to. More important is that the start-ups need to work closely and collaborate well so that the agency gets briefed correctly to work on the communication strategy. Continuous monitoring is important to ensure that the message is getting communicated correctly. You also need to review every quarter the performance and outcome with your PR partner so that any course correction and revisiting the messaging and communication strategy could be discussed for the next quarter.

How PR can help start-ups build credibility & image

Credibility and trust are themost important factors that need to be established for the brand and company. Hiring and attracting good talent isthe key element for any start ups to grow. So, to get and hire good talent the reputation of the organisation has to be solid and reliable and which is where the role of PR comes in. Any new or fresh talent who is looking for opportunity will be browsing online to know the image of the company and this were building a strong equity and reputation through well thought out HR and PR campaigns will help the brand to draw good talent. So, when it comes to hiring quality talent the power and role of PR for start-ups come into action with the right messaging.

Commenting on his association with several start-ups Atul Sharma, Managing Director, Ruder Finn India, said, “I had the opportunity to work with numerous start-ups all along my professional journey, I can say that public relations play an integral role in not only building awareness for a start-up but also establishing trust around the brand and its offerings.”

He further said, “I also strongly that feel PR does play a pivotal role in creating the category, debunking myths, clearing misconceptions and talking about benefits, establishing the brand as a voice for the company as well as industry, for instance MakeMyTrip for the online travel space, Uber for aggregator space, etc. Thankfully, there are enough and more examples of for us to see around us like Meesho, Byju’s, Dunzo, Swiggy and the likes. Building brands depends hugely on where the start-up is viz-a-viz it’s business journey. We often come across all sorts of start-ups that are on different stages in their evolution. This is when we step in with customised campaigns that essentially fill the blanks to not only help establish the brand in the minds of its customer but also where it wants to go in the near future and how it wants to be perceived.” 

“You can tell a good story, when you have a good product to back it up with. Anyone who has worked in the business of communications will tell you this—that the biggest challenge with start-ups is a good story backed by a strong business model which hinges on customer benefit centricity,” Sharma added. 

In addition to this, the start-ups should invest into PR from a long-term perspective and not be focused on announcement centric initiatives. Even with established brands, there is a constant method of trial and error, where ideas are constantly planned and revisited to come up with one that’s a perfect fit. It is essential for start-up to understand that any meaningful campaign requires its fair share of incubation to truly come to fruition. Also, working very closely with the founders of start-ups works very well. Therefore, PR firms need to work closely with start-up founders to solve their business problems through communication, and that is usually what they appreciate the most.

Explaining his views on how start-ups should view at PR, Vineet Handa, Founder & CEO, Kaizzen, said, “PR is the most effective way of storytelling from both, messaging and cost perspective in an ad-filled world and that is what any start-up would look at. Most start-ups have innovation as the backbone of their business model and therefore strong storytelling becomes imperative. Besides, PR is not a 100-meter race, but more like a marathon. At the same time, its impact is also for the longest time which surely helps in giving start-ups the deserving and desirable place in the market while building up a reliable and distinct image amongst the target audience and competitors in the industry.” 

Commenting further, he added that the challenges are no different from any other industry. “We as PR professionals need to showcase the value of our work through consistent results in storytelling which helps a start-up’s core business objective and helps in gaining the client’s trust. If we do this, for a startup or any other business in the process of building brand awareness and better recall in terms of credibility, the brand stands out in the crowd, aligns with the set goals, and periodically overcomes challenges.”

The role of PR in building the reputation of a start-up is crucial. Expressing her views, Tarunjeet Rattan, Managing Partner, Nucleus PR, said, “When the efficacy of their product or service has not been established, their individual credibility goes a long way in earning trust from investors and consumers. PR helps communicate and build this trust effectively. This reputation is central to any brand’s existence and growth throughout its lifetime. A PR professional’s work is never completely done. At every stage when of their growth their reputation requires a different approach which they need to leverage to build upon and move forward.”  

On the challenges faced in handling PR for start-ups, Rattan said, “The lack of understanding of the PR field by founding teams is a huge challenge. Though I don’t blame them. With so many myths and misunderstandings on PR at an overall level, bottom line businessimpact, true value of the process and importance of reputation is always a session that one has to go through with startup founders. The ones that open up their minds to understand this are the ones that excel and create winning partnerships with PR firms.”

Continuing further, she said that lack of patience is another challenge that PR firms face in this vertical. “With bootstrapped funds and high pressure most founders are unable to keep their hands off the media outreach process – one of the crucial and most protected pillars we build reputations on. Good PR involves a lot of nuanced conversations and delicate tact. Unless there is a crisis there is no space for pushing around an editorial contact. When founders bow in to the pressure and give in to their innate desire to do things themselves that they tend to take the reins from the professionals and run with it themselves. I am of the opinion that start-ups need to focus on their product and service while leave the PR management to their partners. Those who follow that will - win. Those that don’t- well they run off in a different direction,” Rattan concluded.


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