How I see it: PR and treps
Peppercomm Communications founder Steve Cody on what he learned about branding as a start up.
The brand of you
Having started my own strategic communications firm 17 years ago and watched it grow to a 100-person, $15 million, three-office entity, I know how critical self-promotion can be to a nascent business.
That said, I've spoken to countless entrepreneurs over the years who struggle with public relations. They either:
- Wait too long to begin branding themselves
- Confuse PR with sales
- Believe it far too expensive to afford
I believe a smart entrepreneur should pursue parallel paths in their first year of business. Sure, it's critical to focus on superb quality and service. But neglecting one's own brand to focus solely on current customers is a mistake that will limit growth and, potentially, kill an embryonic business (because, sad to say, the business world will NOT beat a path to your door).
Face to face, you might be able to explain to someone what sets your business apart; but what is the image you’re leaving for them when a prospect searches for information about you online?
That's why, back in 1995, I spent my daytime hours smiling-and-dialing prospects and servicing the one or two small clients we could attract. My evenings, however, were devoted to spreading the Peppercomm gospel.
- Distributing a press release to industry trades announcing our existence and key points of differentiation.
- Meeting with large, established competitors in my space, asking them to think of me whenever a conflict reared its ugly head or, better yet, when a prospect was simply too small for them.
- Joining the PR committees of key vertical industry associations (this put me in the inner circle right alongside key prospective clients).
- Contributing opinion pieces to my own industry's trade publications, as well as the top ones serving my vertical targets.
- Calling mainstream business reporters and offering myself as an expert spokesperson on a breaking crisis.
- Pitching myself for speeches or panel discussions.
I did more. Lots more. But, my focus on the brand of me, and my firm, paid off handsomely. We attracted blue-chip clients, Ernst & Young being one of them, as a direct result of the early buzz my publicity campaign had generated. By the end of the first year, we'd achieved billings of $890,000 and were off to the races.
Don't neglect your brand. Customers come and customers go. And, if the departing customer represents too large a percentage of your sales, your business may go right along with the departing customer. Pursuing parallel paths is the smartest road to success for any start-up.
Steve Cody is founder and CEO of Peppercomm Communications. Follow him on Twitter @RepManCody