PR for start-ups: “Everything is marketing”

PR for SMEs

The new marketing

I’ve just finished the book ‘Rework’ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, who started 37signals in 1999. It’s a great book – full of really good advice for people starting out or running their own businesses, and much more readable than many business books.

There’s a lot in the book to shout about, but one chapter that struck me is called ‘Everything is marketing’. Marketing is not the sole responsibility of the marketing department, but something that everyone in the company should do. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson say: “Every time you answer the phone, it’s marketing. Every time you send an email, it’s marketing.”

They even make the point that “If you’re in a service business, your invoice is marketing.”

This is such good advice for start-ups or small businesses. We tend to think of marketing as being the team that creates visual materials; sets strategies for and runs search, ad and PR plans (and agencies); agrees and plans high profile events and sponsorships; and is responsible overall for that wonderful thing called branding.

We don’t tend think of it as being about how your customer sees your invoice, or how every email and phone call is perceived by a customer or prospect.

Marketing starts, of course, with having a great product. And then it’s about every single person in the company believing in that product, and in the business itself. If you meet someone who is very negative about their workplace, it colours your view, too. If they don’t care about their company, they’re unlikely to go the extra mile for a customer who needs help. They’ll talk to their friends on social networks. It’s amazing how quickly bad news spreads.

But if you’re good to your employees and partners, they’ll naturally become part of your marketing team. They’ll help you recruit good people, and spread positive messages about the company and its wonderful products without being asked to do so. You’ll grow from a group of people who genuinely believe in your success.

This takes time: one of the other messages in Rework that hit home for me. We work with a lot of start-ups, entrepreneurs and SMEs. In the vast majority of cases, they’re building brands for the long-term, not for a quick buck from overnight success.

Great PR for start-ups and SMEs is a very different beast from PR for an established brand. They’re unlikely to need a full press office, or to get calls from the national press on a regular basis. Media exposure is hard-won, and much-celebrated. They’re more likely to build direct audiences on blogs, social networks, niche media, influencer networks and their own website. Press releases (otherwise known as ‘spam’ in Rework) are virtually non-existent.

When you work so hard to create your audiences, it makes sense to do everything you can to widen your marketing net, starting with the people who work for (or with) you. The most successful companies ensure that everyone who comes into contact with your company has a positive experience – whether it’s by talking to someone in the pub or on Twitter, calling your helpline, coming for a job interview, paying an invoice, seeing an ad, visiting your store, or reading a review. This is the new marketing, and it really does include everything.

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