Tips and tricks

The Power of International PR for Startups
Jan 13

Public relations is a lot more multifaceted than most startup founders realise. PR not only helps your startup stand out from your competitors in an always buzzing market. PR is the practice of building your reputation and shaping a public image. Mastering the art of representing yourself correctly will go a long way in attracting attention and making your voice heard.

Julija (JJ) Jegorova, a trained journalist who has been working in international PR for the past decade shared her thoughts on the topic of startup PR at one of Startup Fair 2020’s online sessions. Here, she went over the most important things to pay attention to in order to properly harness the power of PR, as well as outlining some of the most common mistakes and challenges that startups face along the way.

According to Julija, PR builds your reputation, molds your public image, and makes you stand out from your competitors. 

According to Julija, PR offers many benefits often overlooked by startups. And there are a lot of things startups can do themselves early on to be successful with international media outlets. The issue is that new startups tend to lack marketing expertise. Especially for startups coming out of smaller markets like Lithuania, international experience might be lacking, and the temptation might be to resort to PR tactics that work at home, without a strategy that contemplates their actual target audiences. By definition, startups are businesses with a strong emphasis on scalability, meaning that for startups in small countries the audience will necessarily be international.

Sometimes, public relations is confused with advertising but it’s not the same. You can buy an ad, but you can’t buy a reputation. Edelman’s trust report 2019 gives us some interesting insights: 67% of people say: “A good reputation may get me a product, but unless I come to trust the company behind the products, I will soon stop buying it”. And 3 in 4 people (74%) avoid advertising by using ad-blocks, changing media habits and/or paying for streaming services.

Julija defines PR as building your reputation through activities such as media relations, investor relations, thought leadership, crisis management, events and speaking engagements as well as creative stunts. It’s all about enhancing and protecting your reputation. But it’s important to understand that not all PR is necessarily good PR. How to distinguish it from the bad one? Good PR:

  • Starts with a strategy that ties into the overall business and marketing strategies.
  • Being proactive in creating and sharing new stories, not just business milestones.
  • Always timely and relevant
  • Properly tending to your press office – try not to lose media opportunities.
  • Saying “no” is an integral part of the job.

And bad PR means:

  • No plan, no strategy, no purpose
  • Selling the product and not the story
  • Poor timing
  • Neglecting research – reaching out to random journalists

Julija notices that many startups in the Baltics use newswires in the wrong way. They become content with their releases simply being copied into the press wire section of well-known publications. The bad news is that it has no impact. Why? Anyone can pay to have their press release on a wire, that is not an actual PR achievement. Wires are generally used by larger, mature companies for stories that will have a wider appeal. For startups, this is lazy work that almost never pays off. It’s important for startups to know how to communicate with journalists. It will be clear to most sophisticated readers, such as investors, that it’s not a real editorial piece.

During the session, Julija emphasised that local Lithuanian news will rarely go international. Why? The local media news is limited in terms of stories, meaning there is less competition for a story to make it to publications. Also, home-grown success makes it easier to be featured in the local news. Internationally we see a lot more outlets but even more startups with stories to compete with. You need to understand newsworthiness, and what will be newsworthy for a given journalist or publication. It might be that you don’t actually have a story. 

Having first devised a marketing strategy, once you’ve considered and defined your PR goals you can start thinking of more specific actions. So, what are the things you can do without spending a lot of money? Julija gives a number of suggestions:

  • Try to always understand what is really important to say, the timing of your story, the impact you are making on customers or others, and whether you are geographically relevant.
  • A press kit is a PR essential. What is it? It’s made up of the company backgrounder (1-2 pages), founders’ biographies and short editions of these that can be used for different purposes. How should it look like? Straightforward and compact. It should also include high quality photographs. It should be easy to understand the origin and the ambitions of the company.
  • You would also do well to include a press page on your website. It’s a page where journalists can find information relevant to them, because typically they look for different information, packaged in a different way than consumers or customers.

So, you have the PR kit, press page and newsworthiness. What is next? Here are some tips on kick-starting media relations:

  • Don’t promise something you cannot deliver
  • Some journalists prefer direct contact with the Founder, CEO or executive. That’s OK. Facilitate introductions
  • Not doing basic research means pitches can be irrelevant. Journalists hate irrelevant pitches
  • Encourage the CEO and other executives to develop relationships with journalists
  • Choose the best medium to pitch: 94% of journalists prefer being pitched via email, 22%-Twitter. Do your research
  • Timing is key: 55% of journalists prefer to be pitched in the late morning 9AM-12PM

Julija notes that sometimes startups can get carried away and proceed in a way that is not the most productive. These are the main mistakes done in PR:

  • Underestimating the power of traditional media
  • Poor timing and expecting miracles
  • Lying and overpromising to the media and your audience
  • Overcomplicating the language and the message

Startups might not become PR experts overnight, and it’s very possible some mistakes will get done in the beginning. But let’s remember the old saying “practice makes it perfect” and let’s keep going!