Top Tips for Start-Ups Looking for Communications Support
Four months into starting my strategic communications consultancy www.fiveinaboat.com and I have met a lot of start-ups. I am also lucky enough to be working for a few of them – and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s a tough game though: money is tight, expectations are often high and, while all of the start-ups I’ve spoken to recognise they need to effectively communicate their business, nearly every one of them is waiting for funding in some form or another. This creates a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. So how can your start-up, with all of these constraints, get the best from a communications professional or team. Here are my top tips on how to maximise your chance of success:
Be focused. I can’t state this enough. So many start-ups want to try to cover all bases when the reality is that they haven’t got the funds to do it. Look at your core business objectives, work out what for you is the most important thing communications wise, and focus on that. And if you don’t know the most important thing to focus on, work with a communications professional who can advise you and bring the wealth of their experience to your business.
Plan as much in advance as possible, especially if you are basing your brief around a launch or a key moment in the business. Not only do stories take time to place but the right agency should work with you on developing messaging that they know will land with media. Being given a last-minute brief will not give you the best chance of success.
Choose quality over quantity. While it might seem appealing to set targets based on reach or number of articles, the reality is that smaller number of strong articles in leading publications which will positively influence your audiences – consumers, partners, investors – will do much more for you than 100 articles in publications no one reads. Recently, a potential client decided against hiring me because I wouldn’t commit to delivering 200 pieces of coverage on a product I hadn’t seen and messaging I hadn’t been involved in. With 18 years of experience you know what works and what doesn’t; committing to a finger-in-the-air number with zero strategy behind it, and that I believed wouldn’t move the needle for that particular business, was not something with which I was comfortable.
Measurement is achievable. For most if not all start-ups, measurement agencies are simply not a viable investment. However, it’s important that you hire someone who can help set metrics and the measurement criteria against them. Key performance indicators (KPIs) such as message pull-through, the tone of an article, whether the right journalists are writing about you, and a sensible uplift it number of pieces of coverage (in influential publications) are all ways of measuring the effectiveness of your communications.
Be willing to take constructive criticism. It can be so demoralising when a communications expert comes in and rips your hard work apart. Remember, though, that a good communications professional who understands messaging and storytelling will intrinsically know what they need to make your company / product of interest to media. Listen to them. Just as you are an expert in your field, we are experts in ours.
Make your communications team part of your own team. This is essential. If you want to get the very best from your communications hires, include them in your business, make them feel like they are contributing to your growth, and share the highs and lows with them. As much as you want your company to succeed, we want your company to succeed as well. No sensible communications professional will put their neck on the line for a product or company they don’t believe in or they don’t think has potential. So get us involved because we care deeply about your business and will always want to return your faith in us.