Want Great PR? Find Your Company’s Unique Story

Little Boy Reading LessonOne of the most frequent questions I am asked as a public relations practitioner and as someone who talks frequently with entrepreneurs and small business owners is: “Why should a start-up like mine use PR?” Or: “What value would PR give a small business like mine?”

Those are certainly fair questions. After all, like any good professional service, PR offers many beneficial services, resources, expertise, counsel and value, and yes, that does cost a pretty penny. (Hopefully, a penny most businesses find valuable.)

Before answering that question, though, I like to ask the CEO: “Well, what is your business’ story? What’s unique about you and your company/service/product?”

This is when it starts to get fun. That’s usually about the time I hear something along the lines of: “We’re revolutionary in this . . . We are doing something no one has ever done before! . . . We’re just three guys (or girls) who went to college together, had an idea we loved and are trying to make it happen.”

That’s all great, but as I often tell potential clients, it’s not likely to build your business, get you investors, reach a mass audience or provide any sustainability to your company. The reason being: All of that is what Every. Company. Says. All the time. And there is a pretty good chance your main competitor, or all eight of them, have already said it before.

Why start your company’s core brand messaging three lengths’ back in the race?

I don’t ask that question to make a fool of anyone, but rather, to see how well a CEO has thought out his or her company’s truly unique story and brand messaging. Because we’re all busy, and more often than not, many business owners haven’t given much thought to the story and messaging that makes their company unique and worth their customer’s/investor’s/advertiser’s time and attention. And that’s often a driving force holding companies back from sales and growth potential.

At my agency, Sternberg Strategic Communications, we call our business a strategic communications agency for a very good reason: It’s what we’re passionate about, and while we realize that thinking long and hard about a company’s true brand story isn’t all that glamorous, and it takes a lot of time, it’s the type of strategy work we know build businesses in the long run. Because as great as big media placements and the cover of The Wall Street Journal are, what really adds value to companies, and what is, in my opinion, the No. 1 reason a small business or start-up should hire a PR/communications agency (depending on where a company is in its growth cycle, of course) is the strategic and objective messaging counsel PR professionals offer that helps companies and entrepreneurs find and develop the stories that make their business unique.

And that has a lot more impact in building a business over 10, 20, 30 years than that framed cover of CIO magazine hanging on the wall of your office lobby.

And for a great example of a young company truly finding its own, unique story, read this New York Observer article about BankSimple, a new type of small, community-friendly bank, based in Brooklyn. That story is unique and worth telling!

So, I ask you: What’s your company’s story?

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  • jeffespo

    Interesting take Keith. At times everyone within a company will throw around the words ground-breaking, revolutionary or transformational towards a project they are working on or the business itself. Much like TJ points out in her post, they are cliche, but you really can't blame them. Their passion for what they do is similar to yours for strategic communications.

    The one thing that most PR folks are there for these businesses is to ground them. Helping them see the big picture is our job. Turning them away if they aren't ready for PR is the right thing to do, taking their business would be like stealing from a baby.

  • keithtrivitt

    Jeff – Great points all around. And your last part about ensuring that a business – whether it's been around 10 years or 10 months – is ready for strategic communications and PR is spot-on. Every company has to make that decision for themselves, and one of the biggest things they should ask is whether their story is truly unique yet. And that often entails thinking about whether their product or service has been fully developed, whether they have a leadership team that is unique, whether they are in the proper state in their growth cycle to possibly handle a huge surge in orders/business from such endeavors, etc.

    It's a delicate balance and certainly one that can't be taken lightly, but above all, it has to come down to something unique about your company that is worth listening to, talking about and spreading the word as advocates (I'm talking about a customer here). If you don't have that, all of the cliches in the world won't do any good to properly build your business.

    Thanks for chiming in as always with some great insight.