The Ultimate Guide to Public Relations for Startups

This practical guide to PR for startups includes advanced techniques & insights from industry experts that will help you grow your business with PR.

February 5, 2021

What is public relations?

Public relations (PR) is informing stakeholders about an organization, while at the same time forming positive opinions about it through strategic communications. Public relations for startups is about using different media channels to form a positive image for your brand. It may be easier to think of it like this: advertising is you saying that your product is great, and PR is getting someone else to say it for you.

Here is the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) definition of PR.

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

PR is in the business of storytelling. A big part of PR strategies lies in creating narratives that advance their clients' agenda. This can range from protecting, enhancing, or building reputations through the media, social media, or other communication mediums. A good PR practitioner will analyze the organization, find positive messages, and translate those messages into positive stories. When the news is bad, they can formulate the best response and mitigate the damage. This is known as crisis communication.

What is PR for startups?

We need to specify what is public relations for startups. It is getting yourself in the media landscape to create a positive image for your brand. PR is a key channel for growth because it builds trust, which is what startups need to raise capital, expand into new markets, and outsmart competitors that are well-established.

Good PR for tech startups can help you grow faster, enter new markets, and become sought after by your audiences.

What is unique about PR for startups?

Often, startup tech PR initiatives are similar to those of established companies. But the same results cannot be expected from a startup compared to companies that have been on the market for years. Therefore, they require variations in strategies and execution - a PR strategy for startups should have startup-specific objectives.

For instance, it must address the needs and challenges of being a new company, starting with a short-term and long-term focus on generating brand awareness and becoming thought leaders. When an organization has no history, getting initial media placements is challenging.

However, starting with a blank slate can provide a unique opportunity to build a brand’s reputation from the ground up. Startups can do this by being clear about what they want their audience to know about them, how they will differentiate themselves from existing companies, and how they will add more value than their competitors. In this sense, a startup company has an advantage in navigating its PR strategy according to how they wish. In other words, you have full control of the narrative at this stage.

PR is different for startups because they are starting with a blank slate. Therefore, efforts focus on short-term growth in addition to longer-term reputation maintenance.

How can PR help startups?

Public relations for startups can accelerate your growth and should be your startup's focus in any development stage. When people don’t understand the importance of PR, they won’t invest their money in partnering with PR firms. However, PR for startups is vital to contribute to overall growth and future development.

Good PR for tech startups can help shape positive public images and establish social and traditional media networks.

This helps the startup increase a company’s reputation and will eventually lead to financial growth through increased sales.

AirPR discovered that PR generates conversion rates of 10 to 50 times that of advertising. The likely explanation is that most consumers trust earned media over traditional ads as the latter are made by the organization, so it’s commonly seen as “self-promotional” and lacks the credibility of the former.

Public relations for startups is a critical component of your marketing mix- It’s not uncommon for startups to emphasize product development rather than customer development. However, a great risk in startups is not the failure to develop a new product but the failure to find and nurture your audience and customers.

Here is a list of some of the startup challenges that PR can provide a solution to:

  • Attracting the best talent
  • Growing a user or customer base
  • Scaling the business across borders and reaching new target audiences
  • Generating trials of its products or services
  • Educating the public about a new product, service or idea
  • Staking out its place amongst the competition
  • Becoming a thought leader and sticking out from your competition

Thought leadership

Thought leadership is the act of promoting a novel or unique viewpoint that changes the public's perception.

It can be seen as an equivalent to branding because it increases a brand's visibility, legitimacy, and authenticity. In doing so, it is giving it a unique placement in the market, fulfilling one of the primary end goals of PR.

While often overlooked, thought leadership is considered a core component in marketing. When building on your reputation as an expert in your field, leveraging your opinion as an individual or representative of a company carries a greater weight and boosts your influence across the industry.

Thought leadership is branding yourself as an organization or individual with a unique value derived from your expertise and industry insight.

By becoming an opinion leader, you position yourself as someone who profoundly understands the industry, the needs of its audience, and the broader marketplace. With more than 83% of buyers believing thought leadership builds trust in the organization, this strategy can prove valuable for your startup or scaleup.

Consider how many people would search for your product before buying it. Simply saying your product is great on your website won’t do the trick. Consumers need and want to see you involved in the bigger discussion with referral links to your site to build the credibility needed to make a lasting positive impression and that last push to influence a purchase decision.

Learn more about thought leadership

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What is the role of a PR specialist?

A public relations specialist with relevant media training can help startups find relevant media outlets to pitch their vision and business goals to and find the most appropriate audience. The world of PR for tech startups has a trial-and-error learning curve. Therefore, your startup must focus on finding what works for you, which should happen sooner rather than later in the development of the startup.

The startup nor its founders should take the PR road alone. PR has its nuances, so this can be a risk. The worst thing a startup can do is to go to the market prematurely and receive negative press.

To summarize, here are the benefits of being a startup when developing a PR strategy.

  • Smaller teams that can react quickly to the news cycle.
  • Less red tape. You don’t have to wait for approval through corporate hierarchies.
  • More creativity. Work is often varied and shared, and a smaller budget encourages innovation and original ideas to circumvent limitations.
  • Tight regulations can often tunnel out brilliant ideas.
  • Trial and error for startups is forgiving, as a small reputation allows for larger margin of error.

The process of PR

Now you have an understanding of what PR for startups is, let us go over the process of doing PR successfully.

The process of PR is as follows:

  • Identify your core values and goals
  • Create engaging content
  • Write a press release and create ever-green and seasonal content
  • Pitch it to journalists and iterate
Learn more about media pitching

Identifying your goals and values

If you’re learning how to build a PR strategy for startups, you first need to reflect on the foundation elements of your brand. Firstly, you should figure out what your value proposition is. This is the core of your brand and your unique selling point that will set you apart from your competitors. The value proposition should be easily understandable, so aim to explain it in one sentence. The template below, pioneered by Adeo Rossi of Founder Institute, is a great starting point if you are struggling!

My Company is developing to help with…

A simple proposition will help keep you focused on developing consistent content. It will also make it easier to explain your company's value to consumers and investors alike.

Identify your public relations goals and define your key messages to set you on the right track. Startup goals include increasing qualified website leads, attracting new customers, or building brand awareness. Once there are clear goals, it makes it much easier to build a coherent and accessible message that is designed to achieve your goals.

Before you go any further with your business, you must develop your brand's core values and mission statement. Consumers have an abundance of choices when selecting products and services, and they want to align their purchases with their values. As such, you must understand the purpose of your brand. What change are you trying to bring about? What is your mission? What principles are you guided by? These will inform your brand personality and how you present yourself when you communicate with your audience. At PRLab, we call the sum of those elements the “brand bible,” which is your brand's most important asset, as it dictates what all the brand assets will consist of.

Here are some examples of core values that you could implement into your brand's communications:

  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Passion
  • Fun
  • Innovation
  • Diversity
  • Quality

As well as communicating these values to your audience, they can also be integrated into your internal communications. Core values are also critical in creating a motivated and thriving company, with studies of LinkedIn users showing that 73% of purpose-oriented employees are satisfied with their jobs compared to 64% who are not purpose-oriented.

Create engaging content

Your brand story can be enhanced through, every piece of content you create. It provides a unified, consistent voice across multiple digital platforms and improves your credibility. When creating content, you need to ensure that whatever you create is aligned with your brand bible and serves a bigger purpose than just creating content for the sake of it.

A successful content strategy should contemplate seasonal as well as ever-green opportunities for content creation.

Let’s say you run a chocolate brand. Valentine’s Day could be one of the most important days of the year for your brand, and you should be prepared. At the same time, chocolate is consumed all over the year, so ever-green content that helps to achieve SEO goals is always relevant.

Here are some ways you can create content as part of your startup PR strategy:

  • Create an integrated calendar that includes ever-green and seasonal content
  • Make sure your content is optimized for SEO
  • Analyze how your target audience interacts and consumes your content through digital marketing tools such as Hotjar that will give you an indication of what people like the most about your content
  • Leverage your network to reach lookalike audiences. Feature important personalities in your content to reach their followers and build a bigger audience together
1

Leverage your social outlets

Social media provides huge opportunities to attract and engage with niche communities in ways unheard of just ten years ago. These social outlets should be used as part of your social media strategy as they have the power to maximize the impact of the media placements by directly reaching your target audience.

In addition to joining discussions on traditional social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.), consider capitalizing on social bookmarking sites like Growth Hackers, Inbound.org, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and Quibb. These platforms offer amazing ways for startups to build communities, create discussions, and amplify the reach of their PR placements.

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2

Produce industry research

One of the most successful and effective ways to garner coverage from the press is by sharing fresh data through conducting research.

Journalists are looking for angles, but they are also looking for data and fresh insights. When you are a startup, you will always strive to push and advertise the products and services of your company, but sometimes, you can’t simply advertise what you do and who you are. You need a novel way to express your value.

This is where industry research comes in.

Rather than sharing the value of your actual service, your intent is to share interesting and relevant information about your industry.

Your research can be quite broad within your company’s niche. Often, a good starting point is to find data on trends, pain points, or any other news affecting your industry. This research can be turned into a press pitch or even an industry report. As long as it remains unbiased, serious research, it will come across as authentic and authoritative.

When you deliver research, you establish credibility and build a reputation as a thought leader, which will only get you more coverage. The neutral messaging of research also allows you to share it with many outlets in your industry and across several other markets that the research might concern.

Producing research shows that you’re invested in your industry, with the insights and pain points you discuss positioning you as a thought leader. The key is to focus on the greater context and not your services & products.

3

Produce research in users

The research ‘in users’ is very similar to that of ‘in the industry’ as it allows you to share it with a broad audience, and it will establish you as a thought leader on a certain topic in your niche. You can analyze the data of users in your own company or from customers using your product and find patterns in behavior over time. This research can be turned into new and insightful data for your industry, and you can pitch it to the press.

4

Create guest blogs

Often, you can use industry or user research to create a story and see if publications are happy for the piece to be used as a guest blog. What is paramount to remember with this tactic is to not self-promote. You can do this in the story with your byline, where you can include a link to your company. By staying neutral with your guest blog, you can build relationships with editors.

In PR, this is critical because you are adding value to topics in your industry by sharing these newsworthy articles with publications. Editors will eventually consider you a source worth listening to; you are building a reputation and brand as a thought leader. However, this approach requires patience and takes time. Editors are very picky in the beginning. So, remaining neutral, relevant, and informative is crucial.

Guest blogs are a good way to get featured in new publications and expand your reach.

5

Establish opinion pieces and newsjacking

Opinion pieces are sent to opinion editors. They are short, 300-600 words, and are meant to convey your opinions on topical issues affecting your industry. This is a smaller market for your business to gain coverage. However, if it is shared with the opinion editorial media, it can give you a platform. This way, you can influence your industry and make a name for your company.

Newsjacking is the process of adding your opinions or thoughts to a breaking news story. You are essentially piggybacking news that is trending to get yourself noticed. To make it work, you have to understand how and when information and topics are going to break or start trending. To newsjack at the right moment means you have to get your opinion or thoughts out there right before the news has peaked. This is a nice technique to acquire coverage and will help your brand recognition because you involve yourself in larger social conversations.

Newsjacking is the process of utilizing trending news to engage with conversations around your brand.

Writing a press release

There are no shortcuts and no concrete answers regarding PR for tech startups. You are a new company, so it is time to get creative and put yourself and your company out there. You have a story to tell that will communicate your values, and now it is time to get it out into the media. This is done by writing a press release. It’s important to emphasize that press releases are only useful when newsworthy news is happening internally that is worth sharing with journalists.

You might be wondering if your news is worthwhile sharing with journalists.

No worries, we’ve got you covered. Below, you can identify whether your news is worth sharing or not. Here are some examples of things worth sharing:

  • Expanding into a new country/region
  • Announcement of a new important figure joining your organization
  • Launching a new product or line or service (not a feature)
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Winning an award/endorsed by an important figure
  • An endorsement from an important figure

Your press release will be shared with journalists and news publications, and as such, needs to be written in a journalistic style. The best way to think about this is by using the Inverted Pyramid method, which journalists use to structure and prioritize information. This means you pitch with the most newsworthy information before moving into other important details and then general info.

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1. Elements of the press release

You should write your press release in the third person and edge along the fine line between self-promotion and plain facts. It has to be concise, around 400 words or one A4 page, and the language has to be targeted in order to attract and retain the reader's attention. Always share it in the body of your email and never as a PDF.

You always start your press release with the headline. This is what the journalist is going to read first. It is the most integral part of the entire document. In only a few words, you have to summarize your main points and captivate the reader enough for them to continue reading. Remember, these words will determine whether a journalist will open your email, so it has to be newsworthy. Luckily, there are ways to maximize the effectiveness of your headline. A tip is to focus on the data.

2. Use data to generate interest

By using data, you can be strategic with your content. Some data points to look out for are: what are people looking up when they check out related content? How many people are doing so? Where are they coming from? This type of research will help you find the most persuasive and compelling words to use in your headline.

After the headline, you have the lead paragraph. It is important. This is where you should apply your story angle, or ‘hook,’ giving the reader something to care about.

Once again, this addresses the newsworthy aspect of your announcement.

It should start with the time and place of the event or story. In this short paragraph, all of the 5 W’s from the pyramid should be answered. This way, you are also giving the journalist or reader the vital information they will need to take an interest, but also so they can pick it up for themselves.

3. What to write in the body of a press release

Next, you have to write the body paragraphs. In this section, you should aim to anticipate and answer the questions a journalist might have about the announcement you are making for your company’s products, services, or events. The key here is to ensure you are not making a sales pitch to the journalist, and it should not sound too promotional.

You are trying to explain that what you are discussing is relevant and important enough to share. Again, you have to remember the newsworthy elements.

For this section, it is salient to use quotes. It humanizes the story and reiterates the newsworthy feature of your story. When you use quotations, ensure that the quote aids the story and sounds like the person who spoke it.

Then, you should send your press release with a brief description of the company, the issue, and the reasons for the press release.

In this section, you should add all the contact information about yourself and others the journalist might need to communicate with to develop the story for their publication.

Now, you should add a boilerplate at the end of your press release. A boilerplate will briefly detail the company or organization related to the press release. It will be succinct and list the name of the company, its mission statement, when it was founded, and a small summary of what the company is doing today to satisfy its mission statement.

4. How to pitch to journalists

Now that you’ve written your press release, it is time to pitch it to journalists. It is crucial to remember that a reporter or journalist receives multiple pitches every day. Therefore, it is imperative that your press release stands out to them and that you explain why they would find it of interest.

5. Focus on the bigger picture

Journalists love connection. Your audience must feel connected to what you’re offering. Okay, you’re super excited about your company’s new GPS software, but what makes you think others will be just as interested? No matter what your business is doing or creating, the story you are pitching must have meaning for your audiences. Focus on the narrative you’ve constructed rather than your company and its reputation as the primary source of attention (even though that is the objective).

6. Give your pitch context

Providing context is an important step in public relations for startups. Think back to the storytelling elements: who is your brand’s superhero? What conflict are you resolving? These questions provide context that demonstrates your brand's value.

This context is important because journalists are not necessarily interested in your company, but rather the story you share.

To ensure your pitch inspires curiosity, you must incorporate an investigation element. Your pitch should include an examined question, a clear subject, and something that occurs in your story that builds interest in discovering more about your offering.

7. Make your pitch as original as you can

The chances are that what you’re pitching has been pitched before. Highlighting distinctive characteristics that set your story apart from others is key. What is the new angle you are providing on the topic? Learning something new is a great tactic to ensure your audience pays attention to your story.

Make sure your pitch has an original take on the subject. Let’s take a ride-sharing platform. They have existed for a while now. However, from your experience as a woman, you have found yourself in unsafe situations using the existing apps. You just launched a new rideshare platform with improved safety features to combat this. When pitching your launch story, you must ask yourself: Where is the narrative? How does this differentiate from the competition? If you can answer these questions, originally in your pitch will be derived.

8. Understand your audience

There are two main audiences that you must keep in mind when writing your PR pitch. If you consider both groups of readers in mind, your pitch will have a higher chance of being picked for publication.

The first audience is the journalist — this might seem like an obvious answer, but this can often be overlooked. A journalist is more likely to choose your article if it is tailored to them, specifically. A pitch you sent to five other press outlets lacking personalization will be easily identified as copied and pasted and generic. Your pitch must fit into the style and purpose of what the journalist writes about.

The second audience will be reading the article when it’s written and published. It is crucial to research the publication you are pitching to understand the type of readers it attracts. The press outlet is looking for content that aligns with the message they want to send, whether a trend or a genre. Pitch a story that you imagine is relevant to readers of this outlet. In fact, 68% of consumers are more inclined to invest time into reading content by a company they care about, proving how important it is to cater your communications to the audiences and platforms you pitch.

9. Put into context

Place your pitch in a relevant and global context, with an awareness of the factors that could positively or negatively affect your offering. This will make your story pertinent to the current times and show that your company’s thinking is proactive.

At the end of the day, a pitch explains why your story should be shared. The more purposeful and targeted you make your pitch, the stronger your argument will be and the greater the chance of publication. As long as you create a compelling pitch tailored to the person and news outlet you’re inquiring about, there is no doubt you will be successful in time.

10. Structure and example of a pitch

You can follow this structure when creating a pitch:

Scenario >Problem >Solution > Resources> Styling

Scenario:

Put some context into your story and get the journalist on the same page. Why are you writing the pitch? This could look like:

In the past few years, companies have been looking for alternatives to the dreadful annual performance reviews.

Problem:

Here, you should point out what’s wrong with the scenario that was mentioned above.

People hate annual performance reviews. In fact, according to research, they are the reason why most employees feel disengaged in the workplace.

Solution:

Here is where you can talk about what you or your brand are doing to tackle the abovementioned problem.

Hence, we’ve created Impraise, a real-time feedback solution that replaces the annual performance review with a platform that allows employees to give real-time feedback to each other.

Resources:

This part gets ignored often by PR professionals, but to increase the chances of getting your story picked by a journalist, you should seriously consider offering resources that could participate in the story, such as the CEO of the solution you’re pitching or a researcher in the field of the story.

Styling:

No more than three paragraphs in the body of the email with your sources quoted. Don’t forget about adding a catchy headline to your pitch that will increase the chances of it getting picked up by a journalist.

If you want more information about perfecting your pitch, we encourage you to read our guide on media pitching.

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Working with a PR agency

Although this guide is intended to help you develop your own PR strategy, there are benefits to working with a tech PR agency for startups. PR can be time-consuming, and outsourcing it to an external firm can save you time and allow you to focus on developing your business in other aspects.

Choosing the right PR agency for your startup or scale-up can be a difficult task to navigate. It’s crucial to be patient and selective before getting to work with a new PR team. Here are some tips for choosing a PR agency should you wish to go down that route.

1

Identify your organization’s goals

Decide on what you want to get out of a PR strategy. A PR agency can offer the following services: crisis management, media relations, social media, speech writing, press releases, event planning, outreach, market research, media training, content creation, or internal copywriting. Knowing what you want to achieve will help you select and brief a PR agency.

Knowing these goals will also influence what budget you will allocate to a PR agency and the size of the agency you will work with.

2

Conduct market research

Once you and your team have decided on a budget, start looking at recommendations and reviews for PR agencies.

Additionally, research PR agencies with experience in your sector. Familiarity with your organization’s industry is already a step in the right direction. Having them understand who they are marketing to will save you time when it comes to briefing them on expectations. It also gives them an upper hand in understanding your target audience. This isn’t necessary, but it is beneficial.

3

Look at their previous achievements

The best performance indicator is a PR agency’s success stories. If not already easily accessible, ask the agency for their case studies. A case study is a good way for PR agencies to demonstrate the tangible results that they can offer. An agency with successful case studies deserves your attention; if you admire their work, you’ll most likely want to work with them. Look out for case studies that demonstrate several deliverables, for example, a lot of media and press coverage.

4

Ask questions

Great PR agencies want to be an asset to your organization and will appreciate your questions and concerns. Questions will facilitate the process in which you and the agency decide if you are a good fit for each other.

Consider the following questions to help you select a PR agency

  • How do you measure the results?
  • How do you stay current with trends and/or topics?
  • What will you need from my team?
  • How often should I expect to see media coverage?
  • How do you integrate media relations?
  • What is unique about your services?
  • Are there any possible additional fees?
  • What contacts do you have within our industry?
  • Do you have client experience within our industry?
  • Why should we choose you?
5

Get to know those directly handling your account

The PR agency people attending the first meeting are probably senior executives that won’t necessarily be handling your account. These high-level executives will do an amazing job of selling their agency and services— they act as brand ambassadors. However, it’s important that you ask to meet with those who will actually be working first-hand with you on day-to-day tasks. For this reason, it’s more important to be impressed with the junior executives because it’s them who will be doing the bulk of work for your organization. A good way to gauge this would be to ask them out for a coffee, this kind casual setting will help you get a more genuine feel.

Thoroughly research your collaborations to make sure they are a fit for your business. This requires you to know your values, goals, and expectations.

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Conclusion

Public relations for startups is a crucial aspect of marketing to invest in, either yourself or with the help of a PR agency. As a tech startup, PR is invaluable in growing your brand awareness and establishing yourself within your industry. This guide has explained the unique advantages of startup PR, and the process you can follow to get your brand mentioned in the media and place yourself into a position of thought leader.

You should also have an idea of how to approach a PR agency and the advantages of working with one. Should you do so, PRLab can offer a wide range of PR services, so don’t hesitate to get in touch should you want to start growing your business today.

February 5, 2021
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