What do entrepreneurs want from PR?

From Flipkart to Housing.com, Snapdeal to Paytm, start-up fever has struck entrepreneurs in India like never before. All of these companies have come up in the last ten years and are certainly not the last of the tech start-up firms that will enter the Indian market. In the first quarter of 2015, 1 billion US dollars worth of investment flowed into India’s tech sector - more than China.

What does PR mean to India’s start-up market? 

Many PR firms are actively targeting the start-up market. But what do entrepreneurs want from PR. Are they ready to go beyond media coverage? Do they look at PR as a business partner?

G Gopinath, COO, Aim High Consulting a PR firm that works with start-ups and has worked with Flipkart, Ola and Helion Ventures explains that, “Our learning is that PR for startups generally traces the startups’ own (and unique) evolution curve.”

Anuj Srivastava, CEO, Livspace and former head of Google commercial products such as Google Wallet says, “I look for a team that understands the PR function end to end, so they understand how to manage the company PR cycle from early stage startup all the way to a later stage growth company.”

Srivastava adds that, “As the CEO of Livspace, I manage the PR function directly and work on a very regular basis with my PR agency. I would heavily recommend treating PR as one of the most important growth and strategy driver through the lifecycle of a growth company. While many perceive PR as predominant media coverage, I treat my PR team as business partners and am integrally in touch with them on a weekly basis to work on my strategy, launch plans and communication objectives.

Prajakt Raut, Founder - Applyifi.com and The Hub for Startups, also handles the PR function for his organisations. He points out that, “Startups are usually struggling trying to get various moving pieces together. Their focus is on what they see to be the most critical pain points - and therefore they often tend to ignore PR, which is critical for building the foundation for a strong business. A PR partner should be as critical a business partner as an investor or accelerator or an outsourced legal team or an outsorced team partner.”

Suhasini Mehta, Director, Stellant Communications Pvt. Ltd. agrees that, “A lot of start-ups don’t understand PR and what it can do for them. There are others who think of it merely as a media coverage function. That said, many young entrepreneurs are fast realizing the importance and cost effectiveness of PR and are integrating it in their plans at an early stage.”

Are start-ups willing to pay PR their due?

While start-ups are beginning to value PR, budgets still remain a challenge. Raut advises companies to, “Look at their PR needs and identify a partner who can support them at this stage. Typically large PR companies have significantly higher overheads that are designed to service larger clients....startups will have to find PR partners whose organization structure is designed to work with startups.

Raut has chosen to work with a PR firm that has a remote team working from home to keep PR affordable.This works for Raut as they are able to remotely support PR and content needs.

Raut however admits that, “Larger clients who like to see face-to-face meetings with teams from their support partners may not be comfortable with a multi-location team of work-from-home professionals."

Srivastava says he treats PR not as a part of marketing but as an integral part of the company growth strategy. Which is why he recommends putting aside “A non-trivial (15-20%) of overall marketing/PR budget towards PR, corporate communications type initiatives.”

Abhik Prasad, Director, FINQA.in says through he understands the importance of PR, it had to be balanced out, “We are very small and for us, it was more of an investment for 3 months. However, I think it should be a decent part of a company's marketing budget and the first line item.”

Gopinath says that, “At the early stage / concept evangelizing stage, PR could even be close to 100% of the marketing budget. As the start-up matures and starts scaling (and raises funds), paid forms of communication start gaining precedence, because, at this stage, brand visibility and rapid customer acquisition becomes the primary objective. With mass media costs being what they are, PR budgets pale in comparison and might even be less than 1% of the overall marketing budget. Whilst, in absolute terms PR budgets swell with the growth of the start-up, in relative terms the share keeps reducing.”