Beginner’S Guide On Public Relations for Startups and SMES


Public relations may seem like a redundant move when you’re just starting out in the business world. In fact, some even think PR is no longer relevant. When we are living in a time where information spreads at an alarming rate, PR matters more than ever.

Here’s a comprehensive list of what you should know when your business is just starting out in PR.

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The thought of PR rarely crosses the mind of startup and SME owners. Some may even think that all PR professionals do are drink wine and “chit-chat” all day long.

However, that cannot be further from the truth. Before we begin, let’s bust some myths lingering around the profession of PR.

Debunking PR misconceptions and understanding what is PR?

If you’ve done your own research, you’ve probably come across some jargon.

The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Simply put, PR is about creating meaningful relationships. When done properly, you earn the trust of your ideal audience.

However, many people seem to have misunderstood what PR professionals do.

Common Misconception 1: PR is about fluffing and spinning off untrue claims

“All PR does is excessively fluff the brand to make the organisations look good.”

Honesty is important in PR. In fact, it is one of the core values at Elliot & Co. It is important to be honest when telling a client’s story to the public and maintaining the client / agency relationship.

PR professionals need to manage client expectations without offending them. This means telling them the ugly truth and even rejecting them as clients. An honest PR agency will challenge your claims if they believe it to be unrealistic.

There are business owners who had a bad experience with PR agencies because they overpromised and could not deliver.

When we understand that our clients are not qualified to engage in PR efforts, we have to point it out to them. If a client’s budget can be saved from an incompatible deal, we have the responsibility to do so.

Remember, a PR professional is someone who is great at managing relationships between an entity and the public. Hence, the name Public Relations.

Common Misconception 2: You need great contacts to do PR

PR professionals maintain contact with the media for a more efficient working relationship. However, it is not a prerequisite to start practicing PR for your business.

How does a PR professional and the media work together?

Think about it, how do small businesses get to be featured on the top spots in the media. The media is always looking for stories, while PR professionals will always provide them quality ones. The mutual relationship between both parties allows each other to work more efficiently.

When we give the media great stories, they eventually start looking for our names in their inbox.

Of course, you can send your own media pitch to your desired media too. We have a complete guide to helping startups and SMEs when it comes to crafting the perfect pitch.

There is no need for PR when you have social media

Social media enhances PR efforts instead of watering them down.

Only traditional PR methods become obsolete with the emergence of social media, that doesn’t mean PR is dying. Great PR professionals will integrate digital media and communications into their arsenal. This means social media won’t eliminate PR efforts.

6 Branches of PR practices

PR is an umbrella term. Here are 6 common branches of PR that you would encounter. You might require professionals from different branches depending on your needs.

Media Relations

Professionals working in media relations are responsible for scheduling press conferences, writing press releases and media pitches. Media relations professionals deal with the media. The goal is to generate positive feedback from the media and advertise for free.

When the media is interested in your pitch or story, the editors will feature it. That is how media coverage is secured.

Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR)

CSR allows companies to be socially accountable for their actions. By practicing CSR, companies become more conscious in their actions.

When a company contributes to CSR, they are aiming to make an impact in the economy, society and the environment. If done properly, CSR helps forge a stronger bond between an organization and the public.

Companies employing CSR strategies usually have the financial resources to give back to society. This is why CSR is a common practice for large organizations like Starbucks.

Examples of CSR initiatives include charity programs, improving a community’s living conditions or setting up trust funds for those who need it.

Employee Relations (ER)

Employee relations refers to the organizations initiatives to keep their employees engaged in their work. This could include initiatives such as better employee benefits and work life balance. The difference between employee relations and human resources is that ER is a subset of human resources.

By implementing ER strategies, companies aim to keep their employees engaged in the business.

Public Affairs

Public affairs is a more political approach in PR. The goal of Public affairs is to influence policy. Public affairs professionals are also required to maintain the relationships of stakeholders and the company.

Professionals in this area are usually lobbyists. They have close contacts within the government, which makes influencing policy much easier for them.

Community Relations

A community relations manager aims to maintain the relationship between an organization and the local community. Even so, sometimes the community may be a foreign community to the organization.

An example of a community for baby products would be stay at home moms. Community relations professionals would have to understand the sentiments of said community. This is to ensure they can send out the best messages to build relationships.

Crisis Management

Remember the Evergreen vessel that blocked the Suez Canal? That’s an example of a crisis for the Evergreen marine company. The blocked Suez Canal paralyzed shipping around Egypt and cargo ships had to reroute around Africa.

Around the 27th of March, the person in charge of Evergreen shippings in Egypt had to attend a press conference to explain the progress of dislodging the ship. This is a clear example of crisis management in PR.

Do startups and SMEs need PR?

Many business owners believe that PR is only for large corporations with an astronomical budget. That’s not exactly the case.

There are many businesses out there looking to make an impact in the community but failed due to the lack of awareness. However, with strategic planning and media exposure, even startups can compete with business behemoths.

To effectively scale startups and small businesses, founders need to leverage on seed fundings or even go through multiple funding rounds. What better way to tell the stakeholders and target audiences than proper media coverage?

By securing media coverage for your business, you are also building quality backlinks from high authority media sites. This indirectly improves your website SEO.

How startups and SMEs can engage in PR practices

Large corporations have retainers on PR agencies to regularly maintain their PR pipeline. However, startups and SMEs do not always have the luxury to do so.

Before you engage in PR practices, you need to understand PR is not a tool to drive sales directly. PR is only required if you are looking to create brand awareness for your business.

Why do you need brand awareness for your business?

Brand awareness is inevitable if you want to scale your business.

This is something that you need to understand as well before engaging in PR practices. Does your startup have a groundbreaking technology that is going to disrupt the norm? Does your business have a strategic partnership with an industry pioneer?

Craft your inspiring story

What’s the angle of your story? What are you trying to achieve from publishing your story? Are you trying to increase brand awareness for your product or a recent event?

Perhaps your groundbreaking product is going to change the way people work. You might start crafting your story by telling readers about your background, how you came about to this idea.

We all know the big names, but want the underdogs to win.

Talk about your journey, your failure and insights. If your story is inspiring enough, you gain immense attention from the audience.

Consider timeliness for your story

Delivering the right news at the right moment will drastically improve how the public views your business.

It is important to understand the behaviours of your audience. For example, it would be great to start a PR campaign 2 months before Christmas instead of 2 weeks before. That way, you allow your brand awareness to reach the full effect of your PR campaign.

This process might require you to conduct a little market research. What is the market sentiment like in your industry? Is everyone complaining about something? Can you trendjack on something and build traction?

Are PR efforts expensive?

Large corporations potentially spend 6 to 7 figures on PR. No doubt PR efforts are important to every business. However it is a misconception that PR efforts are expensive.

If you engage in an ethical agency that views your business needs on a holistic view, you will find that PR efforts are really not as expensive as everyone says! In fact, the packages you get are great value for money.

In fact, SMEs and startups might not need the full extensive PR service, which often contributes to the high cost. SMEs and startups can start small with a realistic budget.

Think about it, spending what could be an annual salary for a working professional gets you featured on multiple top media sites, potentially gaining millions of views from your targeted audience. Wouldn’t you say it’s a bargain?

A Great Example of Public Relations Effort

Let’s talk about the Evergreen vessel (again).

Mercedes, the famous automaker for luxury vehicles, did a trendjacking post during the event. Their social media post featured their racing vehicle trying to dislodge the Evergreen vessel with the caption: “Don’t worry, we’ve got this.”

The post was imitated by other brands on the same issue. It was well received on social media.

What can startups and SMEs do to engage in PR practices?

PR is essential for every business, but not every business can engage in the practice yet. There comes a stage where your business is not ready for the market. Maybe you have a shoestring budget or your business is not well developed yet. Here are some steps you can take on your own:

Improve your business infrastructure

Ask yourself, is your business ready to accept the massive demand from the market? What if your audience starts to recognize your brand, but you could not meet their expectations due to inferior infrastructure and insufficient employee training?

Understand your target market

Blasting your product launch without understanding who is going to read your story is a waste of time. If your target market is defined and validated, you might be ready to consult your PR professionals to engage in PR practices.

Allocate time for PR efforts

Time is a scarce resource for business owners. However, you will need to make room in your schedule to attend in-person interviews and other media requests.

Make friends in the PR and media industry

We understand that startups and SMEs want to hit the ground running when it comes to everything. However, good things take time. Don’t just curate contacts, make friends in the media.

You can take baby steps to engage with writers, editors and agencies. Start with LinkedIn or Twitter. You could simply connect and talk about what they have written. Show some appreciation for their work. After some time, make a media pitch or write a press release if you have one.

You can even make it more personal. Send them emails.

“Hey Jim, just read your article on how not to procrastinate. Perhaps you’d like this story about this new sleeping app by Hypno. Here’s a link for you to know more…”

That’s it, make it simple for them. After some time, you’d find it easier to engage in PR efforts.

Key takeaways

While startups and SMEs focus on driving sales, brand awareness is crucial for business expansion. PR is a great tool to increase brand awareness for any business.

When engaged with a proper agency, your business needs will be viewed holistically. This means they would only engage with you if you are ready for PR.

Is your business planning something big? If you have decided that you are ready to engage in PR, let us know.

Looking to Feature Your Business?

Elliot & Co is the fastest growing PR agency in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. We have featured more than 500 of our clients on top media sites, talk to us and you could be next!

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