Solid Water Marketing Agency Blog

Could PR Be Your Growth Lever?

Let’s set the tone of this newsletter straight from the start - the quote from Ian Wallis of Fieldhouse Associates exemplifies our beliefs when it comes to the impact of PR.
Ian Wallis is an Associate Director of FieldHouse Associates and manages FieldHouse BaseCamp, a specialised PR service for pre-Series A startups. Ian is a former journalist with 20+ years of experience.
Can you give an example when timely media coverage was crucial to unlocking growth whether it was raising investment or acquiring customers?
We were hired to launch a startup that specialises in using “edge devices” - e.g. MRI machines, supermarket checkouts, connected cars, mobile devices - to train deep AI learning models for a range of industries, negating the need for use of the Cloud and thus securing data locally. It was packaged up as part of a Series A funding round of around £5.5 million and covered by the likes of TechCrunch and Business Insider, leading to over 50 inbound leads that were directly attributed to PR by the company, including a number of potential enterprise-level clients. The momentum gained from that led to considerable profile coverage and ultimately supported another fundraising campaign.
As you see from this example, PR can be at least a short-term growth lever. However, not every start-up profile can achieve the same level of PR success at a Series A stage.
Let's dive deeper into the prerequisites for unlocking PR-led growth.
📚Nerd alert! As chartered practitioners we, of course, recognise that Public Relations is a management function which uses a multidisciplinary approach to stakeholder management with the view of building a company’s reputation. However, in the world of startups and growth ups it is mostly interpreted as a marketing tool to build awareness, bring traffic and leads via publicity, or media exposure. We shall stick to this interpretation of PR for the purposes and within the limits of this text.

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Do all startups need PR/media exposure?

Daria Partas, Strategic Communications Consultant and co-Founder of Solid Water:
A media mention in a top tier publication can unlock exponential growth. A good example is a Ukrainian PJ brand, Sleeper. When Franca Sozzani, Vogue Italia's editor-in-chief, named Sleeper Vogue’s brand of the month a few weeks after the business launched, it brought the founders immediate fame and a coveted sell-out. An even more extreme example of the disproportionate growth impact from media coverage is Meghan’s or Kate’s effect. Whenever the Duchesses wear a niche brand, its website gets attacked by the royal fans who buy the stocks out and queue up on a waiting list.
Kate's effect: The Ghost dress worn by Kate in 2020 during BBC’s Big Night In sold out in 30 minutes.
Beyond the fashion world, a good example of exponential growth prompted by the media coverage would be Clubhouse, a social audio app. When it launched in 2020, the launch strategy relied heavily on clickbait publicity (think headlines such as ‘The $1bn app loved by Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg’ ) which attracted millions of users in the span of a few months, an impressive trajectory of growth which was followed by an equally depressing churn trajectory. Clubhouse usage peaked in March 2021, when it announced it had 10 million active users. It is estimated that number dropped to 3.5 million by September 2021 (Business of apps).
❗️ So yes, PR worked as an acquisition instrument, but make sure to always think of your retention strategy, as with any acquisition channel.

It is unrealistic to expect that every media mention is going to boost traffic to your website and convert it to sales at the blink of an eye. So for bootstrapped early-stage startups who are laser-focused on the bottom of the funnel i.e. qualified leads, conversions and sales, allocating senior-level expertise to develop and run a professional media relations programme is not going to be a top priority. Of course, there are more subtle benefits that become clearer with time. If a company sticks to consistent work on media relations, it will be much better future-proofed than its less media active competitors.

Here is why.

Ian Wallis

In the case of most tech startups, especially B2B, the third party endorsement of a respected publication or journalist can help you secure the next round of funding, attract talented staff, and build the sales pipeline. To punch above your weight you want to appear alongside your more established peers and one of the best ways to do that is through good PR.
But there are many small businesses and startups that have never looked into the whites of a journalist’s eyes or received a piece of media coverage and do perfectly well through good growth marketing, partnerships, local presence or word-of-mouth. B2C brands in food and beverage, for example, might secure shelf space in a supermarket or Fortnum & Mason through getting in front of the buying department and blowing them away with the product. They might have an incredible in-house Instagram or TikTok presence that builds a fanbase.
Spindrift is a brand of sparkling water with fruit juice that has about 300k followers on Instagram and TikTok

But it will almost certainly be PR that tips the scales dramatically. Think back to Innocent Drinks’ or Pip & Nut’s growth stories, which relied heavily on the founders getting a media profile, the businesses winning awards, and event organisers then inviting them to speak.

🍀The reality is as always a lot more nuanced because sustaining growth is an equally important task. Think Pangaia which has exhausted its media narrative on sustainability and whose net losses have surpassed $50 mln in 2022. Yet, we all remember its omnipresent publicity in the early days of Covid lockdowns which, back then, indeed worked hard to paint a picture of a brand of the fashion’s bright future.
Maria Tsarkova, Growth Marketer and co-founder of Solid Water Marketing Agency:
Based on our experience, companies that are more likely to unlock growth through PR engagement fit one or more of the following criteria:
  • B2B businesses seeking to build awareness / emerge as thought leaders within their industry (Causaly)
  • Start-ups that secured large funding rounds, usually $150ml+ (Mistral AI - €450M)
  • Exponential virality effect (Monzo)
  • Disruptors that challenge the status quo from the moment they launch

⏳ When should companies start thinking about media relations/media coverage?

Early-stage startups often lack the budget for full-scale PR services, and rightly prioritize funding towards team, product development, and branding. Before securing significant funding or revenue, budgets remain tight. Yet, this shouldn't prevent them from undertaking short-term, focused efforts on specific campaigns or news events to build their media profile, aiding in scaling and attracting more funding.

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