Emerging Irish startups engaging in international public relations for the first time typically face similar challenges. For first time founders, these challenges can be exacerbated as they lack a track record leading to what we call the ‘first time founder conundrum’. The crux of the conundrum lies in the fact that while you are working on something impactful, nobody knows who you are and so it is far more difficult to garner attention. Being unknown has a knock on effect on the credibility of every startup, particularly if their market positioning has been scattered having pivoted over time.
For those seeking to compete in key international media markets such as the United States, UK, Germany, Hong Kong and Singapore, many mistakenly assume their strong domestic reputation will be sufficient to secure traction. While it helps to have some track record online domestically it does not always translate into success abroad requiring a more proactive approach as opposed to a passive reputation management approach. Aside from the need to overcome the ‘first time founder conundrum’ on an international basis, early stage companies are competing with hundreds of others, each of which are looking to secure a mention to attract investment, users or partners.
So what are early stage companies looking to expand internationally to do?
The first step is recognising that reputation building in any new market takes time. A quick path to instant market recognition domestically or internationally is rare. Just remember, the larger the media market, the higher the time investment required to lay the foundations of your company’s reputation.
The second factor is to ensure consistency of effort. Momentum and growth are two core narratives that help drive credibility in the marketplace. Making a splash and disappearing back into obscurity can leave more questions over time. In order to construct a strong narrative around your company you need to maintain a consistent presence. Most importantly, you need to ensure journalists are receiving quality editorial material. Credibility is built over time and, while relationships help with relevant journalists, strong editorial is key to ensure your story makes the cut above others. The harsh reality is that journalists are increasingly pressed for time and when in competition with established brands, you always need to appear more interesting.
Key points of leverage for reputation building among early stage companies tend to revolve around fundraising and job announcements, product launches and partnerships but reputation building doesn’t always have to follow that formula. Growth and momentum narratives can be disseminated based on founder backgrounds, key milestones, innovation, culture and thought leadership, as well as stories that tap into local context which provide just as much impact.
Of course, size and scale matters as does staff count and money raised, but over time and through consistent effort, key announcements, as the first time founder conundrum is overcome, pay a higher dividend accelerating the reputation building process.
The transition from reputation building to reputation management comes naturally with market recognition. Further inbound queries and strategic considerations as companies scale bring that need into the spotlight, requiring a higher level of care with founders’ public profiles. The largest reputational risk issues for most later stage technology companies centre around the use of user data, cybersecurity issues, internal company culture, financial irregularities and investor relations, which have attracted an almost palace intrigue format of coverage in recent years. Thankfully, it is rare that these reputational issues come into focus for early stage companies where the sentiment is often overwhelmingly positive.
As with any public relations campaign, any company that engages in the PR process needs to remember two things: transparency on deliverables is essential, as are realistic expectations. Just remember time, consistency and editorial will gradually deliver what you require.
Managing Director at ClearStory International
James McCann is CEO of ClearStory International, a Dublin based international tech PR agency working exclusively with early-stage startups from around the world. Before establishing ClearStory, James was a former PR Campaign Manager with Web Summit, responsible for attracting top tier media to the company’s events across Dublin, Lisbon, Bangalore and Hong Kong. He currently lectures on Digital PR to final year students at the Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin.