PR in the digital age and what it means for start-ups

Written by Shipra Jena, Founder of PitchOne PR, a versatile, industry-independent PR consultancy focusing on new and medium-sized businesses across India.

Public relations (PR) has long been a vague industry for startup founders. Many people avoid public relations because they don’t know the process. Unlike typical marketing and sales campaigns, public relations results are not quantifiable. Yet public relations has become a thriving industry.

Indeed, according to PRCAÏ, the PR industry generated more than $16 billion in revenue worldwide in 2019-2020. Similarly, India has also witnessed a growth of 12%, estimated to have touched around Rs 1,800 crore in 2020-21.

Another report from The Business Research Company suggests that the global PR industry will grow from $92.55 billion in 2021 to $102.80 billion in 2022 at a CAGR of 11.1%. It expects the market to reach over $149.44 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of 9.8%. This highlights how quickly the PR industry is progressing!

A variety of approaches to public relations have emerged since its inception in the early 20th century. As society and technology have advanced, so has public relations. So even if you’re not prepared to deal with PR, it’s best if your brand partners with one.

Another broad notion that can transform public relations is the metaverse. However complex it may be, it will impact how we communicate with each other. It also offers huge potential in terms of brand building.

Interestingly, public relations has been around since the advent of email, Web 1.0, and Web 2.0. The industry is now preparing for Web 3.0. By working with public relations, start-ups may be able to take advantage of the next big communication pain, just as they have with the rise of social media.

How startups benefit from public relations

The importance of public relations has never been greater, both for traditional brands and for new era start-ups, despite the continuous evolution of the industry.

Public relations can help start-ups in everything from brand awareness to handling reputational crises. Simultaneously, they can also help your brand message stand out at a time when audiences around the world are consuming a sea of ​​instant content.

There are many examples of how a household brand has stood out online in a positive light through public relations. For example, Cred, a fintech company, promoted the brand as a platform that helps people live a more systematic life and rewards them for it. He highlighted the brand as a company that focuses on people paying their bills and taxes online.

Another example is Nykaa, one of India’s main cosmetics players. In their first public relations positioning, they sent a clear message to their audience: “We provide quality, authentic products at fair prices.” As a result, Nykaa was able to build a strong relationship with customers, which ultimately helped the company build customer loyalty, attract new brands, and have stable cash flow.

The role of founders in public relations

There is no doubt that the founders are the public face of the start-up. They are sought after by the media for their understanding of the company’s operations and development. Therefore, they must be ready to interact with the media in a way that will benefit their brands’ image.

A product will receive much more attention if the CEO is personally involved in both the introduction and the promotion. In this approach, public relations can be effectively accelerated and earned media, which is always preferable to sponsored media, can be reached.

However, what we’ve observed in most early-stage and mid-stage startups is that the internal team wears “many hats” and tends to be pulled in multiple directions. They may not get the traction needed to focus solely on PR. In other words, an in-house PR team is only effective when your team has the time, experience, and skills to communicate effectively with an outbound audience.

Therefore, startup founders are always advised to outsource PR instead of building a team in-house, especially in their early stages. This way, not only will they have instant access to established media relations, but it will also save them hundreds of hours of PR and other editorial work.

Also, PR understands that running a business is a challenge. However, the team must still have access to you. Remember that journalists work to tight schedules, so if PR asks for your help quickly, respond. If you are unable to help your public relations team, appoint additional staff who are familiar with company operations and products.

Getting involved in the media can only help build awareness of your brand and elevate your position. It’s a no-brainer: more engagement means more attention, which means more earned media for you.

Building long-term positives with public relations

The adage “Life is a marathon, not a sprint” is also relevant when it comes to public relations.

You won’t become a household name overnight. It takes time to lay the groundwork in the press. An organization’s credibility grows as its products and services are featured in respected media.

Since public relations is a long-term strategy, it is often the last element of a company’s plan. Startup founders often argue that paid articles produce better results than PR. Yes, for a quick and short term campaign they can be effective. They are, however, ineffective in terms of long-term impact. Not only are they expensive, but paid credibility does not appeal to consumers either.

Additionally, paid ad prices have skyrocketed across all major platforms, including Google, Meta, and Amazon. Most platforms use a real-time bidding system that works like a public auction. Advertisers bid to have their ads shown in the publisher’s slots. These deals have skyrocketed as more brands compete for the slot. It’s simple for large companies with huge marketing budgets. However, it is difficult for early-stage startups with limited resources.

The scenario will also not be different in the Metaverse. All companies have started using Metaverse. More brands are likely to follow suit. If companies continue to invest their marketing dollars in paid positioning, the price is unlikely to stabilize. We can anticipate the same in the metaverse. When that happens, paid media will no longer be viable for startups.

In other words, brands need to interact and engage with their audience organically more than ever. With earned media, PR is better positioned to help startups build relationships with their stakeholders, whether in Web 2.0 or 3.0.

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