What is PR

Most people have heard about public relations. But unless they’ve worked in the industry, they usually know nothing about the actual functions involved in what we call PR or ‘communications’ in some cases. It can be difficult to describe because PR means different things to different people. A government department will use it in a different way to a Hollywood celebrity. That leads to a variety of different definitions. But for an uncomplicated jargon-free description, ‘the function of managing a company or person’s communications with both internal and external stakeholders’ serves well. ‘Stakeholders’ is broad in this sense. It could refer to anyone from investors to employees, partners, or customers. And PR in its purest form is exactly that. What it means to your startup might be a little different though.

What PR means to startups

When we talk about PR in the business world, we’re most often referring to a company’s relations with ‘the media’. We’ll explain a little bit more about who the media are in our next post. But for now, let’s say the media include journalists and influencers.

PR involves handling both incoming and outgoing communications with the media. Sometimes journalists want to know things from companies. It’s a PR team’s job to handle their requests for information. It works in reverse too. Sometimes companies want journalists and influencers to know more about what they do. It’s the PR team’s job to communicate that information.

In this way, you can see how a PR team acts as a mediator between an organisation and the media. And through the media, an organisation can communicate with all the other stakeholders mentioned above.

Why startups should do PR?

You might ask yourself at this point: Well, do I really need to do PR? But in many ways, the answer has already been decided for you. Most startups try to disrupt markets with innovative ideas. People are interested in innovative ideas. At some point, if your company grows enough, someone will want to know more about your innovative idea. At some point, you’ll have to respond. That’s PR.

You might not want to wait until someone contacts you though. Active PR strategies can provide many benefits to a startup, like getting its name in a relevant magazine that potential investors might read. An investor might then see its name, research it, and choose to provide it with funding. That’s as good a reason as any to use PR as a tool for your startup, no matter how big it is. And we’ll explain more about how you can do that later in the series.

PR is also totally free for startups (assuming you’re not yet at the point of hiring an agency.) Bigger companies might have big marketing budgets that they can spend on billboard advertisements. Startups often don’t. But you can still achieve the same exposure without any financial investment by convincing journalists or influencers to mention your company on their platforms.

That’s not to say PR is a cheap alternative to advertising. Big companies use it too. And that’s in large part because PR allows you to benefit from another organisation’s reputation. People tend not to trust advertisements because they know the company that has paid for it can say whatever it likes. They trust unbiased third parties like newspapers more because of their perceived impartiality.

That impartiality means that the media might say something bad about your company too. And that’s another reason to do PR. Sometimes you’ll want to respond to bad news or criticism. Preparing for those situations and handling them well when they come around, which they will, can help to protect your company’s reputation. That will protect its success in the long term too.

People call PR many different things: reputation management, storytelling, persuasion. Most are true in some shape or form. Whatever you call it, it’s important to recognise that PR is and will be important to your company’s success in one way or another.