Marketing podcast: Are SMEs in need of PR guidance?

PR is not just for multinational corporations. In fact, it is even more crucial for SMEs and startups which are looking to become the next unicorn in their industry. In addition to helping companies gain awareness, PR also builds trust and credibility among stakeholders such as investors and consumers. That said, the path towards mastering PR can still be a challenging one and SMEs and startups will need to identify the focal point of their PR strategies.

During a panel discussion at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's PR Asia 2020 virtual conference moderated by S4 Capital APAC's marketing communications director Deepa Balji, OVO Indonesia's head of corporate communications Harumi Supit, Zilingo Singapore's director of global PR and communication Naushaba Salahuddin, and Gojek Indonesia's chief corporate affairs Nila Marita discussed the importance of PR in SMEs and startups, and how you can get your company noticed if you are not yet a unicorn.

Listen to the full episode here.

Balji: Why is PR vital for startups?

Supit: It’s really exciting that the role of PR and communications is being increasingly recognised as a success factor in the startup world. I think the role of PR can vary depending on the stage of startup you’re in. If you’re a bootstrap startup, it’s going to be sort of different set of responsibilities than a unicorn. But it really all comes down having a really good story that’s authentic to what you’re doing and you need to get it out consistently in a way that really resonates with your target audience, which is going to be different depending on whether you’re B2B or B2C or whoever you are addressing.

Marita: In the world that we live in today, information is easily accessible from a multitude of sources in seconds. PR plays a crucial role in determining the type of content that people consume and achieving public perception. Good and creative PR can go a long way in creating a positive image for a startup.

Startups also have many stakeholders from investors to business partners and consumers. So PR is vital in ensuring that all these stakeholders receive consistent and relevant messages. This ultimately helps the business gain trust and credibility among the various groups. At Gojek, we have a wide range of stakeholders - investors, drivers, merchants and consumers. As such, our focus is on ensuring that we have a clear narrative that helps all of them feel connected to the business while showcasing the unique nature of our work.

One way we bring it across to investors is by sharing relevant inspiring stories of how we help consumers remove the daily friction, as well as how we help drivers and merchants to elevate their lives. This enables investors to better understand the business and how Gojek is making an impact on both our partners and consumers' daily lives, while helping to foster closer relationship with our brand.

Salahuddin: Adding on to what Harumi and Nila both said said, PR is definitely vital for startups and emerging businesses because it is the ultimate vessel you use to convey your story and brand narrative according to your target audience and also create an impression according to the demographics you're trying to target. For example, it helps to instil trust and educate your target audience about who you are. There is so much noise and clutter out there so it’s very important to have a very strong message to state what problem statement you are trying to solve.

Balji: What would then be the focal point for startups especially in the PR function? How would you narrow down what you’re telling to the journalists, who are one of the major external stakeholders?

Salahuddin: I think it’s important to know who you are as a brand and what kind of brand you aspire to be and what your story is. So nailing down your USPs is very important. For us, what’s worked really well is the founders’ growth stories and at the same time you need to know your audience and map your approach accordingly. You also need to acknowledge and leverage the power of social media. I cannot stress this enough - on mastering the art of communicating across different social media platforms.

Along with that, you also cannot underestimate the power of customer testimonials. A startup’s good work and progress needs to be showcased widely and a really good approach is to have the work speak for itself.

You also have to promote the brand with internal health because your employees are your biggest brand equity, so at startups you have the advantage of promoting the whole package.

And Zilingo, thankfully, had the spirit and diverse workforce which we routinely involve to bring out the human angle in our business. So when an employees partake in internal opportunities and feel appreciated, they subsequently engage in social interaction. This adds to brand visibility organically. Similarly, we have seen that highlighting employee case stories reflects well on our work culture and it definitely helps to build trust.

Balji: How do startups get noticed when you’re not a unicorn yet?

Supit: With OVO in particular, the way we went about it was to collaborate. So I think it’s really incredible that OVO managed to become a unicorn in a few years. That’s definitely a record for the region and possibly Indonesia. The key to that was definitely the partnerships. Apart from launching in a country with the kind of demographics and fundamentals that Indonesia has, the fact that we were able to partner with retailers and Grab and Tokopedia, that really propelled us into people’s lives and created a solution for our partners. I think specifically to OVO, that’s really worked well and people found that it’s a really good solution.

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