How to Growth Hack Startup PR

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Hopefully this does it! Because, frankly, I’m so damn tired of answering the question of whether or not PR is right for startups! So here’s my answer, once and for all:

Well, not yet… allow me to set the stage first.

PR’s place in startups is a topic that has been debated for a long time, but more frequently these days with VC money flowing and startups looking to harness whatever they can to buck dismaying failure statistics.

On one hand, you have famed entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Richard Branson who argue that public relations is absolutely crucial in  helping startups succeed.

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Yet, on the other side of the fence, people like Mark Cuban and equally astute entreps stand firm to their belief that startups should almost never hire a PR firm. The naysayers are everywhere. In fact, look at what appears when you search “Should a startup hire a PR firm?”

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This is strange to me on a number of levels.

First off, most of the pieces in the results share the sentiment that PR is a waste of time and money — a drain on critical resources that no startup can afford. They call hiring a PR firm a “rookie mistake…” Yet, many of these same experts are quick to recommend that startups should dedicate as much as 12% to 20% of their revenue on marketing.

Furthermore, any student of communications knows that the lines between PR and marketing have blurred significantly over the years, yet, they are still  quick to single out and dismiss PR.

Speaking of marketing, do a web search of one of the hottest marketing and startup trends of them all: Growth Hacking. You’ll see an endless array of posts, blogs and channels solely dedicated to this unquestionably lauded practice.

We all know what Growth Hacking is, but for the sake of this post take a look at one of GH’s biggest champions — Sean Ellis’ — definition of what a growth hacker is:

“A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.”

This simple definition holds the very reason why seemingly no one in the startup community questions the important role of growth hacking in building a startup.  And why should they? A growth hacker’s one and only mission is to drive growth. As Ellis puts it, it’s their “true north.”  A match made in entrepreneurial heaven.

So, what does this have to do with PR you ask? EVERYTHING! Don’t believe us — Ask a leading VC.

Take a look at our firm’s (BMV – a public relations & digital marketing firm for startups) value prop:

“[BMV] leverages our expertise in public relations and content marketing all with an eye towards driving growth. ”

Everything we do at our firm is done with one objective in mind — to help startups grow! We operate much like the growth hacker does, testing and iterating on non-traditional channels, proving hypothesis and honing activities to help our clients grow. But, PR can’t do that you say… PR is narrow minded and slow moving… WRONG!

Herein lies the problem:

PR has become the redheaded stepchild of the communications family, with marketing grabbing all the love and investment dollars. A broad stroke of misunderstanding has painted PR as an antiquated service that has no place in the lean, fast paced world of startups. PR has become an abbreviation in both the literal and figurative sense. An abridgment representing a segment of the industry that has yet to evolve their practice to meet the unique needs of the startup community.

An article I recently came across illustrates this misperception perfectly. It said in part:

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While I was dismayed to see this blatant misunderstanding of what PR can and cannot do, I was relieved to see one of the pieces commenters help clear things up a bit.

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People who write these kinds of stories are not entirely in the wrong because their definition of PR comes from an old book. While marketing has sprouted off innovative techniques and practices like Growth Hacking, so too has PR. You see, there is a type of PR has has a place in EVERY startup, at almost any stage in their lifecycle. It’s name, although a little less sexy (because we haven’t thought of a better one) is Growth PR.

Growth PR looks outward AND within, examining all areas of potential growth and influence, from owned content and SEO strategy, to earned media and influencer engagement, weaving them all together to creating one of the most efficient and effect drivers of  leads, users, and overall engagement. It sheds fat and drives forward with only the most effective methods. And storytelling… don’t get me started on storytelling; true Growth PR can shape and tell stories that sell themselves.

Here’s the difference between the PR people think startups should avoid and the Growth PR entrepreneurs and founders would be foolish to avoid.

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While we acknowledge that there are plenty of PR firms who wrongfully claim that they are a startup centric shop, there are good agencies and practitioners out there who can combine a true understanding of the startup ecosystem with an expertise in growth public relations and digital marketing to help your startup grow.

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