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Tech scale-up? Four things to ask yourself before starting PR

2021 has started with a bang for tech funding, with the latest round secured by Manchester-based start-up Orka, who raised £29m last week. This comes just a couple of weeks after a fellow Mancunian business, AI company Peak, secured $21m. Congrats, both! We’re really pleased to see so much funding coming into the region in just the first few weeks of the year, signalling just how important tech is to the UK’s wider economic recovery.

But what comes next for a tech firm following a funding round? For many it’s increased R&D, trying to attract and retain staff, and sustained efforts to grow and increase sales - often through PR and marketing. Being experts on the latter – and knowing that it’s often the area where many businesses struggle - that’s what we’re focusing on in this blog. With PR options often feeling like a minefield, how can time-strapped entrepreneurs choose what to go with? Having worked with tech scale ups for a number of years, we thought it would be useful to share our top tips on what to consider before kicking off with your PR or communications strategy. We hope you find them useful!

Why are you doing it?

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, take a step back and figure out why you need PR. It’s easy to fall down the route of taking a scatter gun approach to PR, particularly in the early stages. By this we mean sending out stories on an ad-hoc basis, with the aim of securing coverage but no central theme pulling it together, or strategy behind it. While this can lead to some quick wins, it can often leave you time poor, stressed, and unable to seize the real opportunities that can be generated through properly strategized PR.

Work out your PR aims by asking yourself: why do I need PR and how can it feed in to my wider business goals? Cleverly thought-out PR campaigns can help you achieve a number of core business objectives - from building brand awareness or gearing your business up for more investment or sale, to launching a new product or increasing sales / generating leads – so it’s crucial you identify the business need and mould your PR around it. A good agency will be able to work with you to identify your business goals and then build a strategy based on these.   

In-house vs. freelancer vs. agency?

Once you’ve had a think about your objectives, you’ll then want to consider whether you need to employ specialist help. Some businesses will want to do their PR and marketing in- house and may want to recruit someone specifically in this role. The useful thing about doing your PR in-house is that you know the resource will be available to you full time, and that person will know the business inside out. However, hiring someone with the required experience to do a great job does tend to come at a cost and you may find that because they’re doing the comms solely for your business, they don’t have the breadth of media contacts, connections and wider creative resource that an agency will have. It’s also pretty common for in-house PR teams to be pulled in a lot of different directions to help out in the business, which can mean PR output can sometimes drop during busy periods.

Another option is to work with a good freelancer – one that has experience in the sector and can prove they have the knowledge and contacts to do a great job. Freelancers will often work for a number of clients on an ‘hours per month’ basis and tend to work on more ad-hoc, tactical outputs. They can be a great entry into PR as they usually come out at a lower cost than agencies, but as they usually operate alone, they won’t usually have access to the breadth of resources an agency would have.

Your final option is to chat to a specialist tech PR agency, that works with a portfolio of other tech businesses on their comms campaigns. With this option, your account will be worked on by a specialist team (usually three people) that are experts in your sector. Depending on the size and expertise of the agency you go with, this can be a more expensive option, however, providing you go for the right agency, the resource and expertise you’ll have access to will be second to none. Many businesses choose to work with PR agencies for scalability, access to creative ideas, high level communications consultancy and access to high level l media contacts – plus the security that if something goes wrong, they’ll be experienced in knowing what to do in a crisis.

Where should your PR firm be based?

Many businesses that approach us tend to want to know whether they need an agency that’s based close to them, or in the area where investors / journalists / big sales opportunities are likely to reside. Equally, many overseas or London tech firms want to know if they’d be better taking on an agency in London, usually for the aforementioned reasons.

The answer to this is probably different to what it would have been a decade ago, but as a result of living in an increasingly connected and remote world, it doesn’t really matter whether you go for an agency in London, or elsewhere in the UK. Literally everything can be done remotely now. Gone are the days of PRs having boozy lunches with journalists in central London – most communication is done over video call or email. We’re having more and more meetings with journalists over zoom coffee - it saves us both time and helps the environment as we’re doing far less travel miles! In most cases, you’ll also find that you get better value from an agency outside of London, as their running costs and rents tend to be significantly lower.

What do your investors need to see from PR?

While investment can be exciting and help to propel you to higher places, it can also be unsettling initially, particularly when it involves relinquishing control of some of your business. While deals that come with investments vary (with some investors wanting very little input and some wanting the total opposite!), all will come with stipulations. That’s why we advise having a think about what your investors will want to see from what you’re putting out there into the world: do they want to see positive stories about how well the business is doing, or your CEO commenting on top-level industry issues? PR agencies that are experienced in working with scale-ups will know the nuances of working with investors and will be able to advise on the best approach - and work with the PR team at your investment company on joint activity, if required.

We hope this blog has given you a few things to think about when it comes to kicking off your PR as a tech scale up. If you’d like to chat to us informally for some advice, please do get in touch!  

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