Part one of a two-part series outlining the two pillars of success in start-up communications. Read part one.
Relationships should be just as much a part of your brand strategy and business plan as your basic production model. These relationships form both internally and externally and require a keen emotional intelligence:
Don’t let the first time you contact a journalist, blogger or influencer be when you’re sending a pitch. Follow the reporters, bloggers, thought leaders and influencers in your industry on social media and read their work. This will help you craft personalized communications when you reach out to start a conversation. Personalization will help you cut through the noise. When you develop relationships before you need them, you keep the process more organic and less transactional—a sentiment that will translate to the work they will later produce for you. But remember, it is a working relationship. When you get too close, you can forget to include all the details in the midst of socialization. Assume that anything not explicitly discussed will not end up in the finished piece.
While keeping a functional distance, you must also be careful not to burn bridges with the media either. You can avoid this in a few key ways: by giving exclusives sparingly, not making things personal and respecting their work. Favoring one reporter or outlet over another with exclusives will damage relationships with others. In today’s media landscape, with traditional and online publications and new, viral blogs launching each day, you want your story spread as far and wide as possible, not promised to any one source—assuming you could even avoid a leak long enough to work with a single outlet. When stories do get written, you will not like every word of every piece. It is important to not make this a personal vendetta with the author. Writers remember to whom they like and don’t like talking. Instead, keep it about the facts and use it as a way to leverage future conversations. And when you do get time with a writer, respect their work by knowing what “off the record” and “on background” mean, and know when to use them without taking advantage of their power.
The media needs you, your customers need you, your investors need you, but your employees do too. You are responsible for managing expectations, setting goals and developing company culture. When you get your messaging right, create a brand voice and messaging document and make sure everyone at the company has a copy and understands its full intent. Your idea for the company cannot exist solely inside your head. Your team cannot market something they don’t understand, or speak in a voice of a company language that is not yet developed. Your brand’s identity and voice have to be clear and tangible so your employees can learn them, adopt them and reflect them in their individual focus areas. Established companies will have their identity set and their voice practiced, while start-ups are still creating theirs, thus changing the learning curve for employees and agency teams entirely. It takes time and patience, open and frequent communication, receptiveness to the process and empathy to the growing pains that come with it.
It is important to nurture careers and personal relationships with your team, because they are entering on the ground level with you. Your company is such a part of you that it can be a real challenge to let go and allow your team the room they need to work. Ask for a passion and shared vision from your team and then respect their expertise. Accept the areas where you are not the expert. Remember why you hired them and let them do their jobs—believe in them so they might believe they have a true place in the company’s success. The beauty of a start-up is the buy-in, the accountability, how close each employee can feel to the mission, the work and the successes of the company. This is a symbiotic relationship between you and your employees. After all, you win together and you lose together.
Lindsay Cosner is an account supervisor at Gotham PR.