To start a fire, to ignite curiosity and simultaneously talk to multiple groups in today’s ‘waiting to know world’ – that’s PR (Public Relations) 2.0 for you.
Do not confuse it with the old-world way of broadcasting messages and sending out press releases. Think of it as creating active, multiway conversations, which have the ability to elicit participation; more as dialogues and multilogues that take place between equals and entities without any talking down, or talking up but talking to each other and together.
The web allows us to do that and this is what most startup entrepreneurs know, but possibly do not award the importance that is necessary to elevate PR to an expansive brand-building tool.
How a startup can deploy PR 2.0 into a smart brand-building programme
1. Begin with first defining your brand. What does it stand for? What is the need that the brand fulfils? What is the problem the brand can solve in a unique manner? Create a simple brand bridge – between your idea and the users. What you think the brand is and what others think of it. Bridge the gaps if any and put your brand down in simple English. No self-indulgence and cleverness – but only in the language of the user/audience.
2. Once you have a brand, think through all the associations you would like to strike up for your brand. Those brand recalls that say something about the idea, build a positive perception, plant curiosity or for that matter begin the process of creating a ‘story frame’ for you in the media – online and offline, which can be built upon in the future.
Associations can be got from a variety of areas – the founder and the personality (Elon Musk), the country of origin (Ikea, Sweden), product design (Apple), platform’s relevance (Uber) and more. Associations are all those descriptions, which could range from the genesis of the idea, the leaders of the team, the process of delivering the solution (Paytm in India), type and quality of hires, culture that is being nurtured within the organization, the mission and vision of the entity (TED and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are relevant examples), personality of the brand (Netflix) and so on. It is important for the founders to dig deep and do a bit of crystal ball gazing to uncover all the possible associations. Those that are relevant now and can become anchors for the future. The thumb rule here is picking those associations that can create relevant brand memories and lay the foundations for interesting brand stories.
3. With the associations in hand the next step is to do a brand immersion for the PR team. Bring them to speed on the brand. Share the vision, mission, communication items, videos – anything you believe that will help them understand your idea, company and the culture of the startup. Encourage them to ask questions. Challenge their assumptions on how the word can be spread around. End this step by working for alignment between the PR team and yours. And finally draw up a priority list – a sequence of associations you think are necessary. Experienced PR professionals will tell you what is feasible and what is not. They can indicate the appropriate timing for the PR piece and highlight the plausible windows of creating public opinion.
4. With the priority list in tow, draw up a timetable and share the wish list with your PR team. A few words on that – wish lists need to be audacious and real. No worries if you think your business can make it to the cover page of the Forbes magazine. Before Uber became big, Forbes ran a feature on Travis Kalanick. Real wish list items could be as straightforward as “A story on this business portal” an interview with this reporter, a Q & A with this TV channel, a talking opportunity at this forum and so on… Plus always keep an outline of your company and yourself handy. Often times reporters ask for a readymade write-up. This also helps as a simple ready reckoner. Have a clear picture as to how you think the PR has to unfold. If you are not trained or do not have that wherewithal to create a ‘to do’ list, hire a branding consultant to do that for you.
5. Next map all your ‘interested publics’. All those audiences who are relevant to a range of aspects of your idea and journey. Remember dissemination in the PR space also demands horses for courses approach. Therefore there could be multiple messages going out but with an overall schema in mind. Someone – ideally you and the PR team have to carry the larger game and picture in your heads. Where do you want to be with PR 2.0 has to be defined in advance. Yes you can tweak as you go along.
PR 2.0 is not just a label. It is a way of doing the PR things. I quote Brian Solis – author of the widely read and followed book ‘Putting the Public Back in Public Relations- How Social Media Is Reinventing the Aging Business of PR,
“We now have the real ability to put the public back into public relations. The public means communicating to many different groups, even those hard-to-reach niche communities on the Web. PR starts to look less like a typical broadcast machine and more like a living, breathing entity capable of also participating in conversations with publics. These conversations (through direct-to-consumer communication) contribute to more meaningful engagement and brand visibility, and help people make purchasing decisions. These conversations also represent an opportunity to foster brand loyalty.”
6. The last step is to define the goals and outcomes. At a basic level, the choice of media and within that the vehicles. And in those vehicles – placement, reach, engagement and sentiment you would like to create. There are enough tools in the marketplace to help you measure recall, social sentiment and more. If you and your team believe that the web will play a key role then certainly keep a watch on your Google Analytics– traffic sources, type of searches and the inbound links.
And one last word from two legendary writers – Al Ries and Laura Ries. In The Fall of Advertising, The Rise of PR they premise that advertising doesn’t build brands, publicity does…
“Advertising can only maintain brands that have been created by publicity. The truth is, advertising cannot start a fire. It can only fan a fire after it has been started. To get something going from nothing, you need the validity that only third-party endorsements can bring. The first stage of any new campaign ought to be public relations.”
Time you got those crucial public conversations going for your startup.