Start-ups & Public Relations – It’s not that complicated

I’ve come across far too many articles in the recent past contemplating whether start-ups need PR at all. Questions like: Should start-ups spend on PR? Does your start-up really need help with PR?

This is an attempt to share my understanding of PR in the start-up world. Yes, start-ups have it tough because they’re new but that doesn’t necessarily make them insecure because of their lack of visibility. Don’t judge a book by its cover. There are plenty of start-ups that have their priorities right. They focus on operations, following through their business blueprint, and are constantly moulding with their evolving business model.

It is often portrayed that once a company gets funding, the upper management can’t handle the publicity and starts spending heaps on “PR”.

PR is very different from advertising.

Among other things, PR focuses on brand-building and reputation while advertising (whether online or offline) essentially highlights products/services to primarily increase sales. More often than not, start-ups that look for ‘quick fame’ end up confusing the two and get frustrated when, despite their investment, the PR company they’ve hired hasn’t been able to get them mentioned in a leading publication. Anyone who understands the world of corporate communications or has preliminary knowledge on media relations, understands that throwing money at the problem is not a solution when it comes to brand-building.

Creating a memorable brand takes time. A bit of research on brands will show you that it has taken years for brand giants to become recognisable, trustworthy and ultimately, THE go-to brand for consumers. PR helps start-ups establish their brand identity, personality, and approachability in terms of consumers. This comment by GG Benitez, CEO of GG Benitez and Associates Public Relations, Inc., helps make my case:

“Too many companies are focused only on the dollars ROI. While PR ‘hits’ are never guaranteed, when they do happen, they spur brand affinity. That results in an ROI that’s outside just the traditional dollar for dollar measurement.”

Start-ups can, however, risk throwing money at advertising. Since we live in a time of multiple online and offline platforms – advertising, to an extent, is truly experimental. For example, there are several different ways you can advertise on Facebook. Companies can choose from ‘where’ and to ‘whom’ they can advertise to. The list of preferences goes on. While one combination may work for a product/service, the same is not guaranteed to work for another.  Hence, experimental.

While advertising is measurable, PR may not be.

When talking about Return-On-Investment in advertising, there is a simple way to measure it.

(Sales Growth – Marketing Cost) / Marketing Cost = ROI: “It is a good idea to calculate ROI on a regular basis throughout any campaign because the results do take time to build.”

Having worked in a start-up for over two years, I understand strict marketing budgets. These concerns can lead start-ups to take charge of their own PR, which isn’t necessarily the best advice and can end up eventually harming the company’s image. Instead, start-ups should find the right PR consultant or agency to assist them in building their brand.

Today, a majority of start-ups are offering products/services that can help make the consumer’s life easier. The right amount of PR and advertising will only help them leverage their brand in the industry.

Why I Almost Quit College After The First Semester

Penning down this uncomfortable part of my life for any student who may be in a similar situation.

Ironically enough, I am going to start this rather personal article telling you how I’ve never quit on anything in my life. Professionally speaking, working in startups requires 100% commitment, a can-do attitude and a strong-as-stone determination level. And I take pride as a hard-worker. Getting in the University of Melbourne (referred as unimelb) was definitely one of the best things that happened to me. But it also didn’t just happen, there was a lot of hard work and wishing that went behind The Decision.

Leaving the comforts of home is hard.

When I left my work-life and social circle in Delhi, I had no idea what I was in for. They say, you get more and more comfortable as you get older and it’s harder to study after working for a certain period of time, or to even live in a new country. And they’re right. Maybe different people react differently to dramatic changes, but this step was exceptionally hard for me.

My first semester at uni was tough.

They were the longest 4 months of 2016. I had anticipated difficulty in assignments and to be honest, it was a bit of a struggle to get used to the referencing style and citations but I thoroughly enjoyed the advanced level at which our professors made us think and research. I’m pretty proud of most of the essays and took the liberty to publish them on LinkedIn and my website.

Accommodation was another struggle but after a decent semester I was ready for the next.

For a lack of a better word, in the first week of our second semester I realized I was scared to commit to living a life in Australia after I graduate (which made sense after having spend thousands of dollars on education). Did graduating from unimelb hold any value if I didn’t see a future here to begin with? Of course it did. It’s one of the best universities in the world but who could explain that to someone having a major panic attack?

I talked to noone – just went ahead and withdrew from the course. Just. Like. That.

…The next day, I spoke to close family and friends who reminded me of the core reason I was pursuing post-grad in Melbourne – To be a qualified PR professional. People are unaware of how anxiety can play a large role in your demeanour. I came across a Quartz article elaborating on a significant percentage of graduate students in different countries suffering from depression.

A lot of people don’t know this but getting a job at LinkedIn was a huge motivating factor behind getting a post-graduate degree. No surprise that I absolutely love the platform that LinkedIn provides millions of people and it would be amazing to work for the largest professional network in the world. In the middle of all the craziness I also wrote to Mr. X, a senior guy at LinkedIn, asking for his opinion on whether I should continue at all. To my surprise, people, busy people, do reply to panic emails! And it was really nice of Mr. X to emphasize on me completing my degree.

Needless to say, I am thankful that my uni has a grace time period where you can apply for re-admittance. If you are a student and you have thoughts to quit college, do not panic. Easier said than done – but it’s better waiting a couple days and talking to people you look up to before signing yourself up for a ton of paperwork.

Remember why you made The Decision.

The following quote by Anne Lamott inspired me to write this article:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

Entering 2017 with Edelman: My Internship Experience

There’s a lot of weight in the name. Known as one of the best communications marketing firms in the world, what sets Edelman apart from its counterparts is the company’s culture that always look to the future. They are ahead of their game simply because they are always on their toes. Edelman not only analyses the current coarse of PR, they also predict future trends. And when they think PR, they don’t limit themselves to a city, country, or continent.

So how was it interning at Edelman?

At the risk of sounding cliché, here goes.

The moment I stepped in the office, I knew I was at the right place. This was exactly where I wanted to be. But I had never worked in a corporate setting before, leave along a giant like Edelman. It was exciting and nerve racking… soon after, I was introduced to my team members and jumped right in the middle of non-stop work. In the two months that I interned there, whoever asked me how I was settling in my new workplace, I could not help but mention how new it was for me to be handling work for more than one client in a day. While I attempted to find a balance multitasking, my colleagues were already pros.

A typical day in the office started with a quick inbox check, scanning for client news through print and online media, heaps of research and word/PowerPoint edits. Most of my tasks included connecting with journalists and bloggers to pitch stories and being a part of the ideation team while working on creating PR plans for new clients.

For public relations enthusiasts, here’s what I took away from my Edelman experience.

PR is bigger than you think.

There is genuinely so much team-work that goes on behind-the-scenes. Work is divided between departments and executed neatly. Edelman offices worldwide are connected in a very organic yet mythological way. All Edelman employees are interconnected – bound by international clients. Adding imperative value to this PR community, the president & CEO Richard Edelman regularly shares his futuristic views on the Edelman 6 A.M. blog – one of my personal favourites.

When a leader regularly communicates the company’s vision with its most important stakeholders – the employees – he creates a breathing machine more aligned with the company’s mission.

Don’t think before you say yes!

Yes – is the default answer. The moment you say yes, you open yourself to the possibility of getting things done. There are many instances where I noticed my brain hesitating for a micro-second – Did I know how to create a dossier in my first day at work? Nope. But I was open to learning and saying ‘yes’ got me places – always.

Get a glimpse of ‘the future you’

When I arrived at Edelman, I was instantly inspired by the strong, intelligent women who surrounded me and made me want to be a part of this team-based environment. A work space that Edelman offers enhances an individual’s PR strengths, and helps them realize the kind of work management style that suits them best. You might even decide the kind of work you’re interested to pursue and catch a glimpse of the future you working at the office, like me!

If you’re someone who’s going to start your internship at Edelman soon, don’t forget to own the moment.

This post was previously published on PRmoment and republished on the Edelman website.

The evolution of digital content in 2016 and opportunities in 2017

I recently stumbled upon an article by Bala Srinivasa and Darshit Vora called ‘The Future Of Digital Content And Media Disruption In India’. Inspired by it, here is my take on how content is changing under the influence of digital transformation.

I vividly remember when a friend of mine asked me if I had a smartphone. This was back at the beginning of undergrad years when I used to think – just how smart can a smartphone be from my usual phone? Millennials, do you remember the time you used phones just to make and receive phone calls? I do. Cut to today, there are 220 million smartphone users in the country.

Video consumption – what’s the hype?

As of 2015, there were more than 110 million video viewers in India and this was primarily possible due to the introduction of inexpensive smartphones and faster Internet (Future of Digital Content Consumption in India, EY report). 2016 saw tremendous increase in individual consumption of digital content spreading across several formats. For instance, at my first semester in Melbourne, I discovered ‘#LoveBytes’, easy to consume because of its length (around 10 minutes/episode) and availability (YouTube). The series essentially deals with the issues an Indian couple faces while in a live-in relationship. Modern-day concepts, choices and struggles have become the subject of these web series. On further research, I found that #LoveBytes was in fact India’s first-ever show exclusively for the digital platform. In the past 2-3 years, similar advancements have been made to create short-form content for news (like the inshorts app), gaming (Rummy) and education (classteacher).

With aggressive marketing, there is undeniable competition and it’s getting harder for companies to maintain their brand recall. This is especially prominent in a world where people are exposed to several hundreds of brands each day. As Richard Edelman, CEO at one of the best public relations firms in the world, mentions in his blog ‘The Way Ahead: 2017’, ‘native advertising will have to change to survive’ by creating unforgettable video and graphic experiences for audiences.

Digital content is meant to be short, quick to consume and omnipresent. With the increasing number of smartphone users, social media platforms are introducing features that enable users to share more digitally. In the words of Bala Srinivasa and Darshit Vora, “Content – especially video is a key focus area for social platforms.” Facebook with its live video option, Twitter and Instagram with short ad videos, and of course Snapchat, with its perishable short video-sharing feature. More platforms that give users the space to share live video streaming are joining the current scenario like Periscope and the most recent introduction of 360-degree live videos on Twitter. Even traditional Indian media is experimenting with the online medium and successfully building audiences. Earlier this month, a study revealed that Times of India had the most viewed videos on Facebook, with over 112 million views in just a month.

Digital content and brand building

This is my personal favourite. Over the past couple of years, experts in their respective fields have been using digital platforms to publish their own video content. I’m talking about the likes of Vani Kola (MD, Kalaari Capital) and Shradha Sharma (Founder, YourStory) who take on professional spaces like LinkedIn to express their views through blogs, and now even videos.

Producing organic video content and publishing it on a relevant platform is helping these influencers build themselves into a brand.

There are possible opportunities in this space this year where I find that increasing number of C-suite level executives, CEOs, founders are recognising the significance of personal branding. 2017 will see a rise in the number of people sharing perspective, predicting future industry shifts and more. In addition, 2017 is going to be the year of three-way conversations, where thought leaders will share their expertise with their audiences, who, in turn, will create and share their own organic content–becoming an integral part of the conversation. This nature of conversation promotes a healthier, more transparent dialogue among corporations, brands, and their most important stakeholders – consumers.

Looking at Internet penetration as a whole, a recent Assocham – Deloitte study revealed that Internet connectivity has yet to reach Tier II and III cities and touch the lives of a staggering 950 million Indians. When this does happen, the country will witness a revolutionary wave of growth. In September, Reliance Jio launched services, including unlimited voice calls, SMS and high-speed data in 2,00,000 villages across India, further strengthening digitisation in India. Further on, the demonetisation has acted as a catalyst in helping people make the shift to digital payments.

While digital content consumption is on the rise like never before, opportunities for 2017 remain exciting and prominent. With several advancements in the digital space, it’s an inspiring time for us digital enthusiasts.

 

Previously published on YourStory.