At Eighty-Eight, we’ve worked with many a startup, some of us have backgrounds in tech, and a few of the people on our team are entrepreneurs themselves. We’ve learned, through our collective personal and professional experiences, that often the way you should communicate with startup/entrepreneur clients is different from the way you should communicate with corporate or small business clients.
Most of the entrepreneurs we work with have founded companies to fill a gap in their industry. As such, they’re the kinds of people who look at the world through a critical lens, asking why things are the way they are, what could be improved, etc. Entrepreneurs tend to be especially concerned about the success of projects because their company is their brain-child, and they usually don’t have time or resources to waste.
Obviously, entrepreneurs are complex and everyone is different. Don’t consider the below tips to be hard and fast rules, but try to keep them in mind if you find yourself working with a startup.
1. Prioritize education: Explain HOW and WHY
Many of our startup clients have never done PR and don’t know how it works, what they need to do to support us, or how to define a successful campaign. When this is the case, it’s extremely important to prioritize education throughout the entire engagement. Entrepreneurs like to understand why they need to spend time on things and how these things work, so explain everything to them in detail. Walk them through the nitty-gritty of what you’ll be doing, give examples, and provide case studies if you can.
2. Be direct (but don’t be ruthless)
Entrepreneurs are used to critical feedback (from customers, investors, advisors, etc.), so don’t be afraid to be direct with your own opinions and advice. Remember that when it comes to PR, you’re the subject matter expert and they’re relying on you to point them in the right direction. But if you have something critical to say, understand that you can be direct without being mean—there’s a big difference between saying, “This isn’t newsworthy because…” and, “This idea is garbage.” If you need to be critical, explain why you think an idea isn’t strong enough and give advice on how you can make it better.
3. Talk about metrics
Startups are very focused on their bottom line, and as a result, they’re more concerned with KPIs. The reality is that the effects of good PR are sometimes difficult to measure—a great piece of coverage will result in increased brand awareness for your client but not necessarily 5x more signups or sales. Don’t shy away from talking about metrics. Again, most clients don’t know what to expect from a PR campaign, so educating them about the outcomes of a successful engagement enables you to set realistic expectations, together. Explain that a successful campaign will result in a mix of intangible things like legitimacy and awareness, along with more trackable things like pieces of coverage and referral traffic.
4. Value their time and be flexible
Running a high-growth startup is more than a full-time job. Entrepreneurs are busy people and PR represents only a tiny piece of their daily puzzle. Understand that these clients are swamped and make the most of the time you have with them—come to meetings with clear agendas, actively follow up if you have action items for them since smaller things (like approving a press release or op-ed) can sometimes fall off their radar, and if you need a them to spend a lengthy amount of time on something (like media training, for example) make sure you clearly explain why. Many of our clients also ask us to join their Slack channels or Trello boards so we can be on the same page without an onslaught of emails or phone calls. You should be flexible with your communication methods, so when a client asks for something like this, say yes!