The How-To: Owning Your PR Even On A Tight Budget Startups need to convince investors that their business idea is viable, displaying some level of clout as seen by tier-one press and its readers.

By Stanislava Burianek

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A record number of 366 startup deals took place in 2018 across MENA, amounting to a total investment of US$893 million. According to Magnitt's The Start-up Ecosystem in the Arab World 2019 report, there are more than 10,000 startups from across the Arab world with total funding reaching $2.1 billion.

In the region, the United Arab Emirates houses the most startups, accounting for 35% of all startups in the Arab world. These startups are very well supported by multiple accelerators that are available across the Middle East. We can see that the startup ecosystem has favorable conditions to grow and have even witnessed a few startup unicorns born here in the Middle East such as and Careem.

However, not all startups are made equal, and those who didn't reach their 1-billion-dollar unicorn status count every dollar they spend on their PR and marketing campaigns.

Related: Shifting PR Priorities - From Press Releases To Value-Driven Partnerships

According to various sources, 15 to 25% of a startup's revenue should be spent on marketing in its early stages. But is this possible when most startups won't see any profit in the first year of their existence? There are many reasons startups hesitate to hire a PR, including fluctuating budgets and evolving goals and messaging as most startups will alter their business models as they progress.

Yet, that doesn't mean that startups don't need any guidance or support from marketing experts. It might take a few years until startups can afford their own in-house marketing lead or an agency; however, there are a few important activities they can focus on that will have important business results without breaking the bank.

First and foremost, startups need to focus on telling their story rather than trying to blast multiple press releases out. In this business, quality versus quantity is everything. Startups need to have defined messaging and a simple storyline that will tell potential customers and stakeholders what they represent. Founders, co-founders, and executives who were in business from the very beginning are the best people to tell the brand's story. All spokespeople need media and/or message training to be able to do so. If you do your homework, you can get around the costly media training services offered by the big PR firms.

Secondly, it is important that startups pick and choose their battles carefully, only handling activities in-house that they know they are good at. This includes things like social media and digital advertising. However, certain activities are too important to not do a 100%. These include creative content development, press releases (trust us on this one!) opinion articles, media relations and messaging.

Winning new customers is only part of the PR and communications game. To enter the next stages of funding, startups need to convince investors that their business idea is viable, displaying some level of clout as seen by tier-one press and its readers. In addition to interviews and feature articles, startups can capitalize on big business wins that represent proof of concept for investors. If a startup manages to secure a big-name client or partner (here we are referring to B2B startups), they might have something extraordinary to offer. This can really raise the ears of potential investors, linking us back to the startups' ability to tell the brand story and create meaningful and appealing content.

One last thing to remember is that there are plenty of programs, academies, and workshops in the UAE as well as across the region designed to support startups. Most of them are either very affordable or even free. There are also media events to mingle with journalists and loads of industry events where they can learn from their fellow startups. Most accelerators offer marketing courses and bootcamp/academy programs where they can help organizations become self-sufficient and financially lean.

In conclusion, startups can rarely afford and sustain PR retainer services at an early stage of their existence, but if they take the right steps from the start, they will be able to afford something more consistent in the long run. Having said that, startups should remember that some things are better handled by professionals.

Learning what PR and communications campaigns are all about is as important as hiring the right agency. It's hard to make the right choice when you don't know what exactly you are looking for. Self-education and research can go a long way for not only startups but small and medium businesses in general.

Related: Working With PR: Top Tips To Manage Your PR Personnel

Stanislava Burianek

Associate Account Director at Active (Digital. Marketing. Communications)

Stanislava Burianek is the Associate Account Director at Active (Digital. Marketing. Communications)

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