The importance of evolving your PR resources as your company evolves
It is a common sense proposition that when a company evolves, so too do its staffing needs. It’s not just a matter of increasing the number of staff members, but also the depth of skills, knowledge and experience required as a company moves from start-up to serious player.
Over the course of my career, I have worked with clients ranging from one-person start-ups to established industry heavyweights and everything in between. I have always been struck by the importance of not only having the right team in place, but also – and perhaps more crucially – having the right team at the right time.
From my perspective, this is especially relevant when it comes to PR, because as companies evolve it’s not only the purpose of PR that evolves. The skills required to manage communications are also constantly evolving.
Just this week, I had a conversation with a client that touched on this very theme. It served as an important reminder that all of us – whatever our line of business – must constantly reassess our staffing needs as our businesses grow to ensure we are set up for long-term success.
Take an early-stage start-up, for example. At this point in its growth, a company is focused primarily on catching the attention of the venture capital community or potential buyers, while at the same time growing its customer base. Odds are the entire company is functioning on a skeletal staff and resources are limited. In this scenario, a dedicated PR lead must wear many different hats, and all of them must tie back to improving the company’s bottom line. That person will likely be responsible for all external messaging, media relations and social media engagement – from strategy to execution – all while operating on a shoestring budget.
Too many companies at this stage of their development fall into the trap of thinking they should hire a seasoned PR professional with extensive experience handling big name brands. In fact, the opposite may be true. PR professionals who work with high-profile brands are used to working with large budgets and a team that can execute on their vision, and they have the luxury of investing substantial time in developing and testing the right messages.
No such luxuries exist in the Series A/B start-up world. In fact, the optimal skillset required in this phase is the ability to roll up your sleeves and get things done. These companies need someone who can move from strategy to execution quickly and is comfortable in an environment which can change on a daily basis.
As a company evolves to the Series C or D level, however, the role of PR in the company must evolve as well. At this point, a company is – or should be – moving close to profitability, and its target audience is now primarily customers as well as industry influencers and thought leaders. The competitive landscape is also more important at this stage. It is vital to develop a storytelling strategy which speaks directly to each of those audiences. Other factors like regulatory compliance, financial requirements and a growing employee base also mean PR at the company now encompasses considerations like public policy and internal communications.
At this point, a solo PR lead is no longer sufficient. A company must invest in building out their internal resources as well as seeking the support of an agency partner. I want to emphasize the importance of investment here. Yes, additional PR resources will require additional spend, but it is also likely that a company at this stage has enough of a profile that any public missteps could garner negative attention and have a knock-on effect on the company’s brand value. As companies grow, the scope of risk also grows, and investment in PR is an essential strategy in anticipating and mitigating new risks.
It is also important to note that some companies move from the Series A phase to Series D more rapidly than others – think of Slack, for example – and if they have not had the foresight to future-proof the role of PR, they can be easily caught off-guard, relying on a Series A style PR operation to manage a Series D company.
Even for companies that don’t evolve as quickly, it is imperative to evolve PR operations in a way that’s aligned to their long-term vision for growth. A forward-thinking company must ask what kind of company they plan to be in two to five years from now, and what kind of PR resources they need to achieve that vision. In doing so, a company buys itself the much-needed time to source the support it needs and to have the right team in place at the right time in its evolution.