(2023) The Ultimate Guide to PR for Startups

Denis Shatalin
Founder of SaaS Camp
Public relations (PR) is something that a lot of startup founders don't consider. They're aware of it, but assume it's reserved for established companies with massive budgets.

Well, that's not necessarily the case. PR can be a powerful tool for startups, and when used properly, it can give your brand visibility and credibility in the market.

In this guide, I'll cover everything startup founders need to know about PR—from the different kinds of PR strategies to the nitty-gritty details of launching (and running) an effective, goal-driven PR campaign.

What Is Public Relations for Startups?

PR for startups is all about managing public perceptions about your company—its people, products, values, and so on. It involves creating and maintaining relationships with the media, industry influencers, and customers to generate positive press coverage that will help promote your products or services.

So it's a form of advertising? No, not really.

One way to think about the difference is this—advertising means telling the world that your company or product is amazing, PR means getting other people to say it for you. In other words, they often serve a similar purpose, but go about it in different ways.
Types of Public Relations
Even under the umbrella of PR, there's a ton of variety. Here are a few of the most common branches of PR for startups:

  • Media Relations: This is probably what most people think of when they hear “public relations”—building relationships with journalists and creating stories that make your company look good.
  • Community Relations: You can also use PR to foster relationships with the people and communities around you. That could mean partnering with local organizations, volunteering your time, or hosting events in your city.
  • Crisis Communication: Crisis communication is an important part of PR. That’s when you need to clear up any misunderstandings, respond quickly and professionally to any negative press, and generally manage public opinion in a time of crisis.
  • Public Affairs: Public affairs is a broader kind of PR that focuses on your company’s reputation in the political arena. This could include anything from lobbying efforts to hosting public forums.
  • Internal Communications: This is often overlooked, but it’s an important part of PR. Internal communications include everything from emails to all-hands meetings, and they can help you make sure all of your employees know what the company stands for and how to represent it.
  • Social Media Communications: With the rise of social media, PR pros need to be aware of how to use it correctly. That includes understanding how to create content, interact with customers, and respond to comments or criticisms.
  • Strategic Communications: This goes hand-in-hand with all of the above. Strategic communications is about understanding your company’s goals and weaving them into everything you do, from media relations to internal communications.

Like I said, there's a lot of variety when it comes to PR for startups. But no matter what kind of PR you’re doing, the goal is the same—building trust and creating relationships that will help your company succeed.

Why Is Public Relations so Important for Startups?

The global PR industry reached an unprecedented market value of $97 billion this year. Within the next five, it's expected to reach $129 billion—and a large amount of that growth will come from startups and established companies.

Why are companies willing to spend so much on PR? There are a few big motivators:
PR helps attract investors.
Positive press coverage and a good reputation can be incredibly valuable for startups that are looking to secure funding.

Investors are human beings—they're consciously and subconsciously influenced by things they see, read, and hear just like everyone else. So, if you have a positive story about your company, that can go a long way in convincing them to invest.

PR builds credibility and trust.

As a startup, it can be hard to gain the trust of potential customers or partners when there's no track record of success to back you up. That's why PR is so important—it gives you the chance to showcase your successes and get other people saying good things about you.

PR helps establish a brand.

Your company's branding should set it apart from the competition, and PR can help you do that. It can be used to create a strong and positive message that will resonate with customers and potential partners.

PR can help you manage your reputation.

No matter how well you plan, there are always going to be situations that require PR. If a scandal breaks out or negative press takes hold of the conversation, you need to make sure you're prepared to respond quickly and effectively.

PR is cost-effective by default.

Public relations is often seen as a luxury, but it can be incredibly cost-effective when done correctly. Compared to other forms of advertising, PR can be much more affordable, and it often has a longer-lasting impact. Plus, with the right approach, you can get your story out to the right people with minimal effort.

How To Create a Goal-Driven PR Campaign

1. Nail Down Your Company's Goal

This step is the most important by far—without a clearly defined goal, your PR campaign will probably suffer from a lack of direction. If you don't fully understand how you want your audience to react to the campaign, there's no chance your audience will.

Right now, you need to be thinking big-picture—we'll be breaking down your goal into bite-sized pieces in a minute.

Think about what your company wants to achieve with this PR campaign. Is it raising awareness? Generating interest? Creating demand? Promoting goodwill? It can be anything, really—so long as it meets four criteria:

  1. General
  2. Non-measurable
  3. Ambitious
  4. Linked to the company mission

2. Link Your Goal to Audiences and Media

All goals are linked to audiences—groups who are involved with accomplishing the goal. All audiences are linked to media—channels that are used to reach that audience.

Let's say your goal is creating demand for a SaaS product that helps lawyers manage their practices. Obviously, your main audience is lawyers—which means your media shortlist should be built around reaching lawyers (e.g., industry blogs, podcasts, legal magazines, etc.).

You'll need a solid understanding of audience behaviors if you want to get this shortlist right. A lot of it will come down to common sense, but some research will probably be necessary. Take advantage of:

  • Competitor Research: How are your competitors reaching shared audiences? These will be great places to start.
  • User Analysis: How did your existing users find your product? Look for patterns.
  • Demographic Data: Demographic data (i.e., age, gender, location, etc.) can be a fairly good predictor of media consumption.
  • Audience Surveys: This one is a no-brainer—just ask your audience what platforms and media they engage with.
  • Marketing Reports: Free and paid marketing reports from Deloitte Insights and Pew Research can offer some useful insights.

3. Break Up Your Goal Into Objectives

At this point, you have a solid goal and an idea of who you're targeting (and how). Now, it's time to break that goal up into objectives. Objectives are the polar opposite of goals—they're:

  • Specific: Objectives are clearly defined and easily understood.
  • Measurable: Objective come packaged with success metrics (usually KPIs) that allow you to define “success” and “failure”.
  • Achievable: Objectives are (relatively) limited in scope.

Let's say your goal is raising awareness about your startup in the hopes of finding an investor. One objective might be to “create 10 articles that introduce the company”. Another might be “increase online mentions by 25%”.

The number of objectives you set will depend on your goal, your capabilities, and most of all—your budget.

4. Set a Budget and Timeline

PR isn't free—you pay for it with time, money, or both.

Your budget could include anything from outsourcing content creation to paying for PR tools, depending on the objectives you've set. If you're not sure how much to dedicate to PR, run a pilot study with a bare-bones budget and see what kind of results you generate.

In addition, you'll need to work out a timeline for completing each objective you've set for the campaign. Timelines are important for keeping the campaign on track and making sure things don't drag on.

Be realistic with your timeline and budget, and don't forget to leave room for unexpected delays.

5. Develop a Content Strategy

Good PR campaigns are built on content—from press releases and blog posts to social media updates and email campaigns.

To this end, you need a strategic approach to content creation. This means:

  • Deciding on the type of content you'll produce (e.g., blog posts, press releases, infographics).
  • Identifying the topics and angles you'll use.
  • Assigning tasks to team members.
  • Designing a content calendar that outlines when each piece of content will be released.
  • Allocating resources for content creation and promotion.

Content strategy isn’t just about creating great content—it's also about leveraging that content to reach your target audience and achieve your objectives. Make sure you have a plan in place before launching the campaign.

6. Consolidate Everything into a PR Plan

Now that you've got all the pieces in place, it's time to put together a PR plan. This document will serve as a single source of truth for your team and keep everyone on the same page.

The exact format (and details) of this plan will depend on whom (and what) it's intended for, but as a general rule it should include:

  • A summary of the campaign's goal and objectives.
  • A target audience profile (including media).
  • A budget and timeline.
  • A content strategy.
  • Any relevant background information on the company/product.

The plan should also have a section for tactics, which outlines what your team will actually do to move forward with the campaign. Once you've finalized the plan, share it with everyone on the team and use it as a reference point throughout the campaign.

Looking for More Guidance?

Looking to scale your startup and gain exposure? Not sure where to start?

I'm here to help!

Since I discovered my passion for coaching SaaS founders and entrepreneurs, I've helped countless clients level up their business through one-on-one training sessions and advice tailored to their unique products and companies.

If you're ready to take your startup to the next level, get in touch and let's chat about your goals. Or, if you’re just starting out in SaaS, apply to SaaS Camp for a curriculum designed to help you 3X your revenue.

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✋ Hey, it's Denis! Thanks for reading :) If you want my help with your startup, the quickest way to reach me is at denis@saascamp.com. I upload my best content on YouTube. Let's connect on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.