Vanessa Horwell is founder of ThinkInk and The ThinkTank, a creatively driven PR and visibility agency based in Miami. Here she examines whether PR can always help start-up businesses.
During a recent discussion with a partner, we talked about early-stage start-ups and whether PR was the right tool to promote their business and help find new business. The issue, we finally agreed, was not how early in the process they were, but rather how mature they were. Did they have a true business plan? Had they researched their target market? How mature was their product, or was it still a concept? These are all very important definers of whether or not PR can help an early-stage start up. Or, in fact, any company.
Having been part of two start-ups in my early days, I’m only too familiar with the teething pains, sleepless nights worried about development loans and bridge funding, product deliveries not showing up, promised orders not coming in from buyers, not knowing where to find new customers, not having enough cash to advertise, market and PR the business — instead, being able to only choose one. In two words — living nightmare.
Of course, every business has business “concerns,” but within the context of a start-up, these concerns can be so acute, so all-consuming that it becomes hard to see the forest for the trees. And especially foggy for those start-ups that haven’t mapped out a proper vision, strategy, what if scenarios and an exit plan if the proverbial crap were ever to hit the fan.
It’s not that I don’t like working with start-ups. To the contrary, it is thrilling to be part of new innovation, to see your hard work and ideas propel a company’s success and that smug sense of satisfaction in knowing that you helped a start-up realize its goals.
The reality check
But more often than not, it doesn’t go like that. With little cash, sometimes not more than two or three months of “emergency funds” in the kitty, many start-ups look to PR as THE sales/business development/lead generation do-it-all lifeline, and expect far more than PR can deliver within an extremely short lifespan and budget. This is where it falls apart.
With no marketing plan, no sales vision or direct contact with potential customers to support a PR campaign, the thought of PR being successful and effective at delivering sales and new customer acquisition is wholly unrealistic. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: PR does not replace a sales team or a robust marketing strategy. The problem with unrealistic expectations is that when PR cannot deliver the sales needed to sustain the dreamed-of business’ growth — which it cannot without the right support — the pain is that much greater.
I’m not saying that all start-ups are like this — I know self-funded visionaries who are creating great companies at this very moment. But my message to start-ups is this: it is all about how mature you are. In fact, a well designed PR strategy, along with viral/social components, can actually make a start-up. But if you are not mature enough, PR might not be right for you right now.
Like any successful marketing or sales strategy, PR takes commitment, resources, integration and importantly, time. Time to grow, to mature and succeed.
Just like your start-up business does.