PR Tips For Startups

2019-05-13 by Ronn Torossian

You’ve decided to set up a new company. Congratulations! No doubt filled with that new-baby glow, you’re probably also wondering how to make your message stand out amid the crowd of other emerging businesses. You might also be wondering how your strategy will need to shift as your new company grows, or how you deal with negative press. Here’s a crash course in answering all those questions- and more.

Public Relations Is Not Just for Customers

PR is aimed at a number of different groups, from investors to employees, and it can be difficult to come up with a message that works for everyone. Be wary of this tension.

“Advertisers want you to tell the world that the company is huge, that there are lots of users [including those using the service for free],” says Angela Watts, former head of communications for Spotify, “Content providers, the artists and labels, however, don’t want to be seen as giving music away for free. So you have this conflict,”

Get Your Story Straight Early

Startups need to think about their PR narrative much earlier than they think. Indeed, big technology companies like Facebook, Google and SpaceX have all come to face larger PR problems as a result of neglecting their messaging in the early days.

“Many of the huge global tech companies are suffering from what I think of as mission hangover,” says Dex Torricke-Barton, director at Brunswick Group, “Facebook, for example, is still dealing with a reputational hangover which goes back to its early foundational story. Many people still think of it as this fly-by-night operation that was put together by a bunch of mates in a dorm room.” 

You Don’t Need a Big Budget

There are a few quick, low-budget wins that any startup can aim for in the early days. Try setting up a simple press page with a few key facts about the company, peppered with some high-quality photos. To contact journalists, try tools like Journorequests and Haro (Help a Reporter Out), which pull together requests from journalists and send them to you as a daily email.

Be Prepared For Bad Press

At some point in their lifespan, every company will face a negative news story. It is vital that you prepare for this beforehand; imagine the biggest risks to your business, and pre-plan how you will respond if something blows up in your face.

Spotify’s first PR crisis, for example, came when Thom Yorke of Radiohead referred to the music streaming platform as the “last desperate fart of a dying corpse”. His comments reignited controversy over the availability of “free” music online, and fair payments to artists. It’s a debate that continues to this day.

Forget the Press Release

Your key wins will come from storytelling. Drop any strategy of flowery, English grad student-esque lectures on paper; imagine you’re talking to a friend at the pub. Keep it targeted, catchy and brief.

Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR.  Torossian recently lectured at Harvard University.

Ronn Torossian: Insights from a Native New Yorker and CEO of 5WPR

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 250 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities