strategy

Why PR is a must-have for startups

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Startups face a wide range of challenges and competing priorities. Between sourcing new business, maintaining relationships with your existing clients and refining your product or service, there is a lot going on. Marketing can sometimes take a back seat.

However, we believe firmly that the one thing startups shouldn’t forget about is public relations. Good PR does much more than just build some buzz and grow basic awareness. Here are three key reasons why telling your story effectively to the outside world is a must for young companies.

1. Seeking Financing

Finding financing and investors is critical to taking many startups to the next level. Over time, having a visible profile in the media can play a massive part in the success of your fundraising efforts. The reason is simple: many investors of all sizes and across all sectors look to the media as a key source of information. The more high-quality blog and media coverage your company receives, the more these investors will be looking at you.

As well, one of the best ways to show off the credibility of your business to potential investors is sharing links to positive media coverage highlighting your brand and product or service. This is especially crucial when making cold pitches, as the success rate can skyrocket when you have third-party coverage backing up your pitch.

2. Thought Leadership

Taking steps to establish yourself as a thought leader is a sound strategy for founders, and should be part of any startup PR plan. You launched your company because you’ve got deep expertise in a particular field, or a unique perspective about your industry. You should share it! This can work especially well if your company is in an industry that does not already have a ton of established experts writing white papers and regularly providing commentary. By sharing your knowledge, you and your company can gain exposure to new potential partners, new talent, and even new relationships with reporters.

In addition to speaking with media directly, a great way of doing this is by creating relevant and engaging online content, such as blogging or video. You can maximize exposure by sharing your storytelling through both your personal channels and your company’s, sharing your posts with the reporters who cover your sector, or spending a little money on promotion. This lets your leaders increase their own profile, while putting the company brand in front of a targeted audience.

3. Strategic Partnerships

Partnering with other companies in your industry makes sense for a variety of reasons. You may be looking to co-develop a product with someone who has capabilities you don't. Or, you may be thinking longer term, about one day selling your company. It might feel strange to be thinking about your company’s eventual sale right at the beginning, but many of your potential investors will be thinking this way as they consider whether to fund your business. That means you have to think about it too. Your PR plan can be critical to attracting the attention of major players in your industry, either for partnership or potential exit.

We see this every day in the telecom and finance sectors, with the next great company being purchased by a larger incumbents. Quality exposure matters, especially in sectors where there are many similarly oriented startups in a race to be first in a particular niche. To get on the radar of the large player who might one day partner with you or buy your startup, you have to successfully target both mass market press and trade publications in your PR strategy.

PR is a critical tool for a startup to employ in establishing its brand and credibility with investors, partners and a variety of other stakeholders. It takes hard work and expertise. In recognition of this, we have developed a specialized offering specifically for startups. Check out Provident Ignite, or drop us a line at wojtek@providentcomms.com

 

 

How communicators can stay ahead in the chaos of an M&A transaction

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Mergers and acquisitions are high-stakes stuff: for the buyer, its competitive position, the ultimate success of its strategy and the trajectory of its stock price are on the table. For the seller, there are often worries about what will happen to company culture, brand, and job security.

At the same time, with teams of lawyers, bankers and other advisors involved, a deal can feel like the proverbial kitchen with too many cooks. For communicators, the challenge is acute, as each of those groups has an opinion about how the story, rationale and messaging of the transaction should be conveyed to various stakeholders, including employees, investors and media.

Each of the aforementioned chefs is coming from the right place, and chances are they recognize that both early and ongoing communications are critical to a deal's ultimate success or failure. After all, if the transaction isn’t embraced by employees on both sides, or if investors feel the story isn’t clear enough to support it, even the best can falter.

From my M&A experience in the North American financial services industry, there are a number of effective ways to ensure communications considerations stay front and center in a deal scenario.

Get a seat at the decision-making table ... before it’s even set. Depending on your company’s way of doing things, you may be brought into a deal with just a few weeks before the public announcement. If that’s the case, you’ll be playing catch-up with the other people involved, and you’ll constantly be reacting to developments, rather than steering them proactively.

Before a deal ever gets announced, make sure your department is on the same page as your corporate development, strategy and investor relations (IR) teams. Set up a meeting yourself, or get the head of your department to do it, if you’re in a more junior role. Ensure that you and your partners understand the value each brings in helping the transaction land successfully. And, more selfishly, get them to understand the role your function can play in telling a deal’s story internally and externally.

When this is done well, your corporate development and IR partners will advocate for you in front of your company's senior leaders, which will ensure you're brought in earlier in future deals.

The ideal end-state here is that you’re signing a non-disclosure agreement about a deal at the same time as your investor relations colleagues, so that you can work as a synchronized team, instead of at cross purposes. Speaking of which…

Make best friends with your IR group, if you haven’t already. They are a font of context, information and financial knowledge that communications teams leverage all too rarely. And because most IR teams report to the Chief Financial Officer, odds are that they will have the most current information about a deal and its status earlier than you will.

Whenever possible, I try to invite myself to review sessions of the IR materials being created (the investor deck, the analyst conference call script, et cetera). This not only keeps me up to date, but also ensures I’m aware of the challenges and questions my colleagues in IR are grappling with.

It’s important to remember that while both you and your IR colleagues are working on communicating the deal, you are doing so with very different audiences. For example, for a communications team, it may seem natural to point out to the media that the deal you’re announcing is your company’s largest acquisition to date. But for your IR colleagues, you could be creating a major headache, as emphasizing the deal’s size may be creating the perception that your company just paid a very full price. That might not be something IR wants to communicate to investors at all.

That’s why having a healthy and established relationship with IR before a deal lands in your lap is so critical. That way, you understand each other and what you’re focused on accomplishing from the start.

Get the first drafts of everything done as soon as possible. I remember working on a multibillion dollar acquisition where I locked myself and two other colleagues in a conference room for three hours, and we wrote the first draft of the announcement press release. While the financial terms and closing timeline continued to evolve until the day before announcement, the core story didn’t mutate too significantly from that first draft.

If you do a good job capturing the deal’s narrative, my rough estimate is that 75%-80% of your first-draft announcement is likely to survive to the finish line. There will be lots of specific word-choice edits and legal vetting of all documents, but once senior leaders agree on the bulk of the deal's strategic narrative, its essence tends to stay relatively constant.

Getting the early press release down on paper also lets you turn attention to the other, equally important items on the deal’s to-do list: employee communications, the media list and spokesperson selection, among others.

Lastly, don’t lose sight of your long-term goals and your role. Fundamentally, deal communications are no different from anything else you’re tasked with communicating: you have to be engaging, compelling, emotive and innovative in the channels you use. As always, it’s important to truly understand your audiences. Typically, those include your company’s employees, the target company’s employees and the media. You might also be tasked with aspects of government and regulatory communications, in addition to customer communications.

How will you address these groups so that they easily and clearly get answers to their most pressing questions, and also understand the strategy behind the transaction? What role will your leaders play in conveying that information, internally and externally? And what happens post-announcement?

In a deal, it’s easy to get swept up in the immediate excitement of the transaction. But keeping a broader, longer-term view goes a long way to assure ultimate success. Think about how the news you’re announcing could be woven into your existing communications strategy, for example. Is there an opportunity to showcase the transaction and its early performance at town halls, or at your annual meeting? What about a blog post on your company’s intranet? A real-time Q&A with senior leaders? Announcement day is just the beginning!

I hope you enjoyed the post, and if so, that you’ll take a moment to like, share or leave a comment below!

 

Broken news: how untrained spokespeople can wreck even the best PR campaigns

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You’ve done it: you have finally hit the “send” button, and the announcement you have been working on for weeks is finally out. It’s newsworthy, it’s fresh and you know you’ll get interview requests from the media. It will be great for your company’s brand and reputation, it could force your competitors to scramble, and you and the rest of the communications team will look like superstars.

Sure enough, the media calls start pouring in. You line up your spokespeople, equipping them with shiny copies of the storyline and messaging. Now, all that’s left is for them to deliver, and for reporters to write the story accurately. Nothing can go wrong.

But when you check your phone for the latest headlines, you start noticing your story isn’t being told well at all. Big, obvious messages are being missed. Your spokespeople aren’t being quoted very much, and when they are, the comments are basic, bland or boring.

Then, your phone starts ringing. Your boss calls, then your business partner. They have one question for you: what happened?

If that sounds familiar, there’s a good chance that the one gap in your PR strategy is that your spokesperson hasn’t been trained on how to give media interviews, or could use a significant refresher. Asking someone untrained to be your spokesperson on a big announcement is like asking an amateur driver to drive in a Formula 1 race: the car might be an elegant thing of engineering beauty, but the driver is as likely to forget to switch gears as he or she is to crash into a wall.

Here are just a few ways untrained spokespeople can unwittingly sabotage your PR plans:

They ad lib

One of the most common spokesperson missteps is adding superfluous commentary that is irrelevant to the narrative, announcement or news you’re discussing. I’m not talking about a personalized turn of phrase, or an interesting data point to bolster the story. Rather, I’m referring to spokespeople who like to hypothesize about what the announcement might mean to the industry, who get facts wrong because they didn't prepare, or who exaggerate the importance of the news.

For example, you’ve just announced that you will use chatbots to deliver customer service. It's a good-news story, and a nice bit of innovation for your company. However, your spokesperson will sound rather tone deaf if he or she calls the announcement “a revolutionary technology which will cement our place as an industry leader.” Chatbots are no longer revolutionary, nor are you an industry leader if you’re launching them just now.

Reporters know this, and your spokesperson won’t get quoted in the story as a result. What’s more, the time spent self-congratulating takes away from delivering the messages that actually matter to your audiences: it will now take less time to address common customer service issues (consumer message) and chatbots are very cost effective (investor message).

It’s important to show, rather than tell. Instead of simply saying chatbots are amazing, imagine your spokesperson says “An average customer currently spends 20 minutes dealing with us on the phone to resolve an issue. Our chatbot lets you skip the wait time for the most common problems, so the resolution time gets cut in about half.” Much better, right?

"A trained, polished and effective spokesperson realizes that they and their brand come out ahead when they focus on providing value to the audience."

They don’t understand their role in the story

An effective spokesperson tells a compelling story in a way which is appropriate for the audience he or she is facing. They should not be doing the interview to build their own profile – that’s typically a happy by-product which accumulates over time. They’re also not there to ignore the reporter’s questions and hammer away at a scripted set of key messages they've decided is the most important.

A trained, polished and effective spokesperson realizes that they and their brand come out ahead when they focus on providing value to the audience. That’s what the reporter covering your announcement is most often focused on, and your spokesperson should be focused on it too. Their job is to inform, contextualize and, if the subject matter permits it, entertain.

If the spokesperson doesn't do this, the storyline will not land, they will rarely be quoted, and the reporter who just interviewed them might reconsider covering your news at all.

They have poor delivery

I'll keep this point short because it's an obvious one, especially in broadcast media interviews. If you're not good on camera, you shouldn't be on camera. With that said, spokespeople who don't know how to tell a story using short, simple and quotable sentences can also be a major problem in print interviews. Long-winded answers containing unnecessarily complex vocabulary choices don't do anyone any favours. The reporter tunes out, the message gets lost, and the audience doesn’t get to hear a good story.

"Having a group of polished, prepared and knowledgeable storytellers at your disposal can differentiate you from your competition."

How training can help

Practice really does make perfect when it comes to media interviews. Regular training and refresher sessions using either your in-house team or an external expert can be a big help in addressing and avoiding the above-mentioned pitfalls.

Company spokespeople are eager to conduct dry runs of crisis scenarios to ensure they're prepared for a misstep or emergency. That's a best practice, and absolutely worthwhile. However, fewer are willing to invest time to practice good-news media interviews, or to refine how they present information to journalists more generally. I’ve never understood this dichotomy. After all, one would hope that the average company conducts a far greater number of positive interviews regarding its products, services and expertise. You should be at least as prepared for good-news interviews as you are for the bad!

Simply put, companies are leaving significant value on the table by neglecting to train their day-to-day spokespeople. Having a group of polished, prepared and knowledgeable storytellers at your disposal can differentiate you from your competition and meaningfully elevate your brand. After all, if reporters see your spokespeople as more interesting, entertaining or informative than the competition, you can bet your media relations phone line will be ringing with greater frequency.

I hope you enjoyed the post, and if so, that you’ll take a moment to like, share or leave a comment below!