At The Social Deck we work with startups, not-for-profits and social enterprises to bring about positive social change by helping them implement creative and innovative social marketing and communication strategies. We’ve really enjoyed working with incredibly motivated clients who are completely passionate about their product, service or cause but one thing that has become obvious is that many organisations in their early stages are not investing in strategies for effective PR.

In this post, I want to share some of the tips and insights into the value of early-stage PR to an organisation.

When you have a great idea for a new product or service or when you’re putting your time and money into a cause, you want to know that people will get behind it.

No matter how good you think the idea is. It’s the initial engagement with your users, consumers or supporters that will build a community around your brand and support your enterprise from the beginning.

The same basic PR principles apply to engaging people in a cause as those for engaging consumers with a brand, product or service. That is, it’s all about THEM and not about you, or your brilliant new idea (sorry). Your PR communications must help people to personally invest in your idea, whether that happens to be a product that provides value to themselves or their family, or a cause that inspires them.

PR should be at the heart of every business strategy for an organisation, even in its infancy, and particularly where you have a product, service or cause that requires trust from the people and stakeholders you want to be engaging with. And one of the first PR principles is to invest in your community-building early. This will give you the best chance of developing a successful and sustainable business or non-profit.

PR covers a broad range of activities, but at the simplest level it’s anything your organisation is doing to communicate with your audience. Every day your organisation is already doing some form of PR. But is it effective?

Although most people already understand the intrinsic value of PR, they are also aware that it can be resource and time intensive, and when outsourced, can be expensive. But, one important question that organisations don’t tend to ask enough is – what sort of PR do I really need? For example:

  • Startups and SME’s can use PR to build their reputation and credibility even before a product or service goes to market. Early support from your potential customer base may also lead to increased investment opportunities.
  • Social Enterprises can leverage PR to build a supporter base around their cause (and may also be able to use crowdfunding platforms etc) which will then flow on to the product or service they are selling.
  • Not-for-Profits need to engage with partners, influencers and individuals from the very start to build support for their cause or campaign. A NFP needs to rely heavily on the emotional connection that can only be achieved by creating a personal relationship with the target audience.

But how do you decide what PR you need right now, and ensure your hard fought early funding is being spent in the right place?

The answer is that you need a strategy. A PR strategy that aligns directly with your business strategy, objectives, outputs, milestones and vision, so that you know the PR tactics you are investing in have the best chance of helping you achieve your business goals. The questions you should be asking are is my PR really helping to reach my next goal, is it helping to leverage the relationships I’ve already built, are my early supporters engaged for the long term?

The investment you make in PR should be about identifying and using the most creative ways to expose people to your organisation and to keep them engaged long term. PR can be described differently to marketing and advertising in that it generally should not require direct payment for exposure. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost money to do, but what you do spend on PR should be able to leverage all of your PR tactics and channels, utilising free media, online and social media, and partnerships to share information and build awareness of your brand. With good PR and a strong reputation your organisation is in a better position to “market” your product or cause.

Investing in PR as a young organisation

There are obvious challenges to investing in PR when your organisation is at an early stage. In most cases, the small amount of money you have already raised is going to developing your product or to demonstration projects that show how your idea or cause is making a real difference. You are likely travelling, attending as many meetings as you can, working through your next business milestone, building relationships and networking.

Below are my top five tips on how you can better leverage cost-effective PR to maximise the value of your business early on and ensure your organisation is more sustainable in the long term.


1. Use press to build credibility, tell your story often

While media coverage is an important part of any PR strategy, often too much time and effort is put into gaining press coverage without significant return. A good media plan can help to make sure the time and money spent writing content for press is leveraged across your other PR activities so that you get maximum bang for your buck. Even if you do land an article in the New York Times or feature in your sector’s most respected online magazine, the value to your organisation will be much greater if it is integrated with your social media and marketing so that it is linked to your brand image and credibility.

Online media and social media allow you to better target your press efforts to engage specific markets and readers. Primarily, you want to use traditional and online press to get people hooked and then reel them in with some great content on your own platforms.

There’s lots of ways to do this effectively, one is as simple as creating a Press Hub, with previous articles, monthly press releases, a blog, videos, images, infographics, etc., all available in the one place. So the next time you send that pitch, the journalist can immediately see that you have been interacting within the sector and your story is credible. What’s more, you improve your SEO, so people can find you online and you have a one-stop shop for updates about your key milestones. Being strategic about how you build your press content can not only help you get more targeted press coverage, but you’ll also be seen as a thought leader in your sector.

Cost vs value:  Free press is key to any good PR. If you can get free press, you get automatic value. But getting free press can be costly if you need to use consultants to draft press releases and pitch to media, and there’s never a guarantee you’ll get the coverage you want! Make your press activities more strategic, and the money you do spend will give you content to leverage across all your PR activities.

2. Use social media to build communities, engage early supporters

Most new businesses or organisations set up social media accounts at the very beginning – a great thing to do to help with your SEO and get your name out there. It’s also a great way to tell people who you are and how your idea or cause will benefit them. Unfortunately too often organisations use social media to promote themselves with one-way interaction, and miss out on opportunities to engage supporters and audiences to interact with their product or cause.

Social media should be used to invoke thought and discussion about your product or cause, and may provide you with valuable feedback on the development of a new product or idea in the early stages. Social media can allow you to build a community around your idea. By posting questions and interactive content online (see the next tip!) your audience has the opportunity to interact with you directly and with others in the same sector or community. Don’t be scared of social media. When you’re honest and transparent on social media, your brand will be seen as authentic.

Research shows that when a potential supporter or consumer interacts directly with you online, they are more likely to engage again with you in the future. To really engage on social media you need to understand the online communities you’re in and spend time moderating and monitoring what’s being said on your own accounts as well as across social media. Jump on every opportunity to connect and engage and make it a priority to find and share other people’s content to build credibility within your sector.

Cost vs value:  It’s free to use most social media so it’s one of the best value-for-money tools in PR. And with more people using it everyday to give and get recommendations and endorsements from friends, the value of social media for any product or cause is growing. But social media posting and interaction only achieves its greatest value when it’s done properly, and that can take time to both learn and do. Many small PR or Social Media firms, like The Social Deck, can help you on an ongoing basis with planning, managing and moderating your social media. If you outsource your social media, it’s important that you and your team work closely with your social media manager. After all, social media communication works best when it’s your voice, in conversation with your online community.

3. Use more interactive and engaging content, pictures tell a thousand words

Short-text content on social media and the growing use of video and images to tell stories provides the opportunities to tell your story succinctly, and move away from the lengthy content that no one these days has time to read unless they’re already engaged. More new software technologies are making it easier to use key words and statistics to explain concepts via images, graphics, animation and video. A current trend is the use of animated content designed to get a point across while being clever and funny enough to promote sharing by your target audience. A great example of this was the Dumb Ways to Die campaign by Melbourne Metro trains to increase awareness of train safety; currently sitting at 66 Million views on YouTube, winning a swag of awards and having apparently achieved a 21 percent reduction in accidents and deaths since the campaign began.

Content is still important, but so is holding public attention in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Ideally, by the time someone reaches your website, they’re ready to take some action – buy the product, sign up, donate, share. So the content in which you use to attract people can be more important than what’s on your website. It needs to be unique, simple and engaging.

Cost vs value:  Often early-stage organisations believe creative content is out of their price range. And depending on how you go about it, it could be. But these days some of the most engaging and sharable content is filmed on iPhones and GoPros at very little cost. If you can sell your product, idea or cause in words, you can sell it visually. Small PR consultancies like The Social Deck can help with creating short content, infographics and simple videos. For more complex animations and professional videos, there is a growing sector of small, independent producers out there who can work with you to create an amazing visual story, but who also help you to incorporate it across your social media channels.

4. Use partnerships to open up your market, and show how much you care

This is an area I am still often surprised organisations aren’t engaging more in. We’ve all seen the success of products like Tom’s Shoes, using social good to create and access whole new consumer markets. Or Australia’s National Breast Cancer Foundation and its successful partnerships with products and corporations to raise money, especially during Breast Cancer Awareness month.

In PR, partnerships have been used as a way to show social responsibility, build community support and improve brand recognition. In business, partnerships are often used for product distribution and better market penetration. Using the principles of these types of partnerships, younger organisations have the opportunity to use mutually-beneficial partnerships as part of their PR strategy. Even on a small scale, partnerships can open up your market and help to engage more people in your product or cause. By offering a partner something that has real, tangible benefit to them and their community, you gain access to their audiences and the opportunity to engage with people in a setting that is already familiar and important to them.

Cost vs value:  Partnerships often won’t cost a lot of money upfront, but can have big value in building brand reputation, and creating awareness and engagement in the long run. But they can be tricky and require planning and careful thought. PR agencies can help with partnership engagement, including developing partnership proposals and pitches and helping you to identify appropriate potential partners to reach out to – and it shouldn’t cost you a lot upfront.

5. Use a mix of professional PR help and do-ers, PR is a team effort

By now I’m sure you’re thinking all these tips are great (well, hopefully), but you don’t have the time, resources or expertise to implement. This is why a PR strategy is so important. A PR strategy will help you make decisions about where to put your effort as well as what sorts of activities you might use professional PR help for and what you can do in-house. Think outside of the box and see where you can use the time of interns or volunteers to help – for example, building media lists, sharing content or even helping to write blogs. With a bit of guidance, most Gen Ys these days know how to engage with people on social media.

Depending on your organisation, it is unlikely that you’ll need to outsource all of your PR. Your PR should be embedded as a part of all of your business and organisational functions. As a CEO or manager you are responsible for PR when meeting with potential investors and partners. At a social event, any team member is representing your organisation’s PR and brand. And when you do use a PR consultant or agency, make sure they really know you and your business strategy, core values and vision.

Cost vs value:  Obviously the more PR you can do with existing resources the cheaper it will be, but this doesn’t mean it is more cost-effective. Reflecting on the first four tips, consider which activities you can do in-house with less effort, and which of those might have the most value in the future with a little more investment now. The most valuable asset you can have in PR is a well thought-out PR strategy – one that identifies your audiences and target markets early, considers your organisation’s key goals and matches your PR objectives to these, identifies where you currently sit in the market and where you need to be in the future, and provides a clear and well-costed Implementation Plan for you to make decisions about how you can improve the effectiveness of your PR and engagement efforts.

If you are wondering how you can maximise your ongoing PR efforts, check out The Social Deck packages available for startups and not-for-profits. We tailor packages to meet your budget and provide free initial consultations to help you work out what type of services might best suit your needs.

Like you, we are committed to creating social change and impact for social good by providing quality and affordable social marketing and PR support to organisations we believe in.

Kate Bowmaker is Co-founder and Director of [The Social Deck: Social Marketing for Social Good.](http://www.thesocialdeck.com.au)

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