Over 1,200 start-ups were added to India’s diverse and expanding entrepreneurial ecosystem, taking the total tally to 7,200 as per NASSCOM. However, amongst these promising ventures, only a few could carve their way up to the top. This would make one wonder what truly sets a start-up leader apart from the contemporaries? The answer may involve a confluence of various forces, one of the most crucial of which happens to be the right brand visibility generated through public relations. 

Establishing new categories & leaders in the media

With start-ups coming into the fold, the brand activation today centres around disruption, establishing category leaders and distinguishing them from the commoners. Done playing by the rules, young ventures of today are launching trailblazing products in categories that never existed before. Communications partners, in such a scenario, must embrace the challenges of instigating a new category worthy of media attention.

For instance, online payments as a concept was completely unheard of until Paytm made its way into our everyday lives. An average Indian household would have sworn by hoarding products for a rainy day until OLX provided them with an easy way to sell second-hand products. However, online classifieds until then would never inspire media attention.

PR practitioners are thus venturing into uncharted domains, meditating with the CEOs to create compelling branding narratives for categories that are completely new. They must also make the best use of tools available in their arsenal, including new-age media that is extremely popular with today’s audience, to crusade for and establish unprecedented categories and category-leaders.

At this juncture, one cannot help but reminisce the David and Goliath fable, where the Goliaths of the world, the large and well-known corporations find it easy to garner visibility in the media. Davids or the entrepreneurial ventures struggle to operate within tighter budgets, competing with the bigwigs to claim their share of media attention. The changing landscape warrants PR practitioners to ideate and execute a holistic brand stewardship plan. As advocates of uncontested market spaces, PR practitioners today must identify the conception, propagation, and ultimate acceptance of newer categories.

PR’s evolution to persuasion & fostering interactions

In its initial phases, the PR industry largely relied on press agentry and public information. Such instruments could only yield unidirectional communication through print and broadcast. However, with the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, the media and communications industry landscape is observing tectonic shifts, especially with the advent of digital as a go-to medium. Growth of digital platforms, content marketing, and the emergence of influencers also ascertain that public relations no longer remain a one-way street. The discipline has now evolved to include persuasion, orchestrated through dialogues and relationship building for propelling a successful start-up PR.

Raising brand equity by building brand leaders

While persuasion is the objective, its pursuit has never been as difficult as in the current times. The foundation of persuasion is trust, which has been declining across the globe, as discovered in The Edelman Trust Barometer Study. The only aspect claiming a high level of trust is experts. In fact, expert material was perceived to be more effective consumer outreach by a Nielsen study.

Expert content is chiefly a PR domain, comprising selected third-party websites and blogs, and practitioners are utilising these resources to garner credibility and mindshare for their clients. Furthermore, knowing the fragility of trust, PR practitioners are constantly endeavouring to transform CEOs into thought-leaders in the target categories. The approach warrants modern-day CEOs to step into the role of Chief Communications Officer as advisory labours to present CEOs as reliable sources for journalists and media influencers. The exercise also entails securing placements at flourishing online communities, key industry events and trade shows, to facilitate CEOs emerging as chief orators of the brand, showcasing their expertise and tackling industry problems in a way that puts the spotlight on the brand.

The digital ‘influence’ on PR

Social media has also emerged as a significant platform, giving a voice to the consumers, and allowing brands to engage in a conversation. The growing popularity of these mediums adds to the available arsenal of PR practitioners, with tools like Twitter chats, Facebook and Instagram Live. Furthermore, the growth of social influencers has completely transformed the landscape for brand equity, also obliterating the practice of hard selling.

The shift requires start-up PR practitioners to create compelling brand narratives to subtly weave in the key messaging. They must also make social media a staple to skilfully adopt live videos or chats in overall brand stewardship, while also connecting with the leading influencers in the industry. Earning the trust of influencers goes to solidify affirmative perceptions around the brand.

The emergence of PR data analysts

The growing prominence of digital mediums makes start-up PR more critical, the branding exercise more complex. PR can no longer be planned in isolation, branding cannot be pivoted on key messaging alone. With consumers at its core, successful start-up PR requires practitioners to constantly wear the hat of analysts and data scientists. Deeper insights reveal mission-critical information about the target audience, their preferences and consumption patterns, allowing practitioners to better target their campaigns.

In the changing times, it will be a major disadvantage for organizations to not explore the potential of data. Start-ups in the fore are further streamlining the practice, introducing newer gauging mechanisms and key performance indicators (KPIs). Such deeper analysis reveals the kind of stories and publications yielding the maximum ROI, increasing the number of downloads or improving the bottom-line for start-ups.

In essence, the collaborations between entrepreneurial ventures and PR advisory are paving the way forward for the entire discipline. Through recurring mediations with communications partners, CEOs provide the right direction for PR practitioners to aptly steward brand activation. Advisories, in turn, are being called upon to be strategic communications partners of a start-up, engaging in research and planning, making strategic choices for the brand, and continuously expanding their tactical inventory. As start-ups and PR practitioners continue to focus more on what works for a young brand while weeding out the rest, we would soon have in place the models of start-up communications excellence. These models would prove to be shiny beacons for introducing and establishing an unprecedented category, and along with that, the category-leaders.