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Guest Post: Can PR help startups to win grants?

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This guest post from Diane Sealey of Fiber PR examines the question of whether startups looking for funding should engage in PR. This is, of course, an important topic with many conflicting viewpoints. Without further ado, here’s Diane’s take:

The first time that most start-ups think about PR is when they launch, or perhaps have some funds available. PR, like sales, is pushed back “until later”. And yet, starting PR activity early helps you to engage with your potential customers and provides important feedback about your marketplace. This can be crucial to support funding activities like grants.

PR influences and ultimately drives behaviour with customers, investors (including grant panels), employees and the competition. The level of interest you are able to generate gauges whether you are on to a winner, and others pay attention to that clue when deciding whether to pay attention to you. Media coverage is powerful, and lends gravitas when it comes to looking for investment. If the people holding the purse strings have heard/seen or read about you, your chances usually improve. Media coverage can also establish you as an ‘expert’ and demonstrate that you have thought about and implemented strategies regarding route to market, one of the important criteria in grant applications.

One of the most important aspects of any PR campaign is media outreach. These relationships take a long time to build, so why wait to get started? Why not create an environment that is receptive to your launch by holding pre-launch briefings? Getting in front of the right journalists early will give you valuable insights. Remember that these folk are talking to tech companies and reviewing products all the time. They walk in the world you want to be a part of, they know the industry movers and shakers, and the events you should be involved with. They can sign-post you and make introductions, they are important contacts.

Ahead of launch I’d steer clear about generating any PR giving detailed product information, since there’s usually still a lot of development work going on. The main reason for that is that you don’t want to have to contradict yourself later. Instead, articulate the main issue that your new product addresses, the needs of the customer, the benefits and the problems it solves, and initiate industry conversations around those. If you have happy (beta) customers, then make them a part of any media outreach as case studies. Promote incentives, offers and demonstrations to early adopters. Make sure you have a confident and articulate spokesperson, and if you don’t get some media training.

Don’t leave the PR thinking to later. PR is a process. Start thinking about how you can present yourself to those first users right away.

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