PR Insider: It’s Time for PR People to Think Like Start-Up People

Every year, Le Web in Paris attracts thousands of innovative thinkers and doers. The conference is a celebration of opportunity, largely driven by and for the energetic start-up community.

Margarita Peker
Margarita Peker

The participants are curious, the speakers inspiring, and the conversations challenging. This event may be ostensibly curated for those involved in tech, but the lessons stretch beyond digital innovation. As PR professionals, there are some pertinent parallels that should not be ignored.

1.     Disruption as an ecosystem – not a stunt

“We want it to be disruptive,” said almost every boss or client to their team in 2014. One of the most over-used words of the year, many mistake disruption for a big, splashy stunt that gets media attention.

Indeed, as PR people it is our job to make news and capture attentions, however this kind of activity is also unsatisfying from a PR perspective. Does one loud bang influence behaviour, promote credibility, build loyalties or drive advocacy? Probably not.

How do we make a big bang while still adding value to our clients?

According to Brian Solis, disruption is something that truly changes an ecosystem – where the world adapts to you. He has previously used sliced bread as an example, because this idea gave birth to a new marketplace; jams, spreads, accompaniments and so on.

Thus the point is not to create a PR stunt that gets media attention, but something that is significant enough to inspire a new ecosystem of ideas or actions. An Australian example exists within the “Start with Vegemite” campaign, which sought to recognise all the unique ways Aussies like to eat their vegemite. A popular combination dominating public conversations was vegemite and avocado, and later it was reported that this Vegemite campaign actually resulted in increased avocado sales.

To start your own: set out to solve a problem, use insights to find a fertile territory and aim to create a marketplace around your idea. If you expect that the dominoes stop falling after a few press clippings, then you’re not sitting on anything truly disruptive.

2.     Technology to create a better experience, not just another experience

Today, all communications campaigns will have a digital component. By now, virtually all consumers are online, and engaging them means treating digital as they do: inherent to every day life.

From a planning perspective, however, too many are looking at the situation backwards; they consider how they can use technology to tell their story again rather than thinking about how their story can become more interesting and grand because of technology.

Just as the notion that the Digital Marketing Manager role will soon become redundant (isn’t a regular Marketing Manager digital by default?) so too should any ideas of digital duplication. For instance, if you have an experientially driven campaign, sharing the event on your Facebook page or asking people to use a hashtag won’t make it “digital”. Sure, you’ll have impressions and Likes and Comments to add up for your post-campaign report, but have you made this a better experience for your customers?

From now, start considering what elements of your activity can actually be evolved to create more meaningful interactions with your consumers thanks to technology. If we go back to this event – is it possible to extend this invitation digitally, so that online users are able to attend, too? Can online interactions from these users perhaps shape the activity that’s happening in real life? Does the event only reach its full potential when guests unlock activities via digital actions, such as augmented reality? It’s about creating the experience first, and then enabling it through technology second.

3.     Use People Power

Academic reasons for the rise of the sharing economy may be long and varied, but ultimately it comes down to the simple fact that we now live in a world where technology can facilitate revenue generation for almost anyone using the assets they already have.

Platforms like Airbnb and Uber have found success because they offer economies on (and access to) high-ticket items such as accommodation and transport.

From a communications perspective, we should be developing strategies that leverage what our audiences already own, even if it’s something more lateral like pride or experience. Tourism Australia, for instance, was able to become one of the world’s most successful “brands” on social media through a content strategy that relies on Australians and travellers worldwide sharing their photos and memories.

4.     Plan for what could end you

Very few successful start-ups are born from an unpredictable industry problem.

The retail industry has always known that the majority of purchases are price-driven (enter Groupon), and hotels have long recognised that rate and location are major factors in the decision-making process (hello Airbnb).

While they recognise where the dangers are, most established companies are not reacting to the challenges of the future. The opportunity cost for this lack of foresight or urgency is best represented by the rise of start-ups like BlaBlaCar, who now transport more passengers every month than the Eurostar.

Of course few of us are able to affect the innovation trajectory of the companies we work with. However, if we think like the truly disruptive companies our clients admire, it becomes a communications opportunity.

Brainstorm the current and future threats facing your clients to engineer or pre-empt the benefits of hindsight. You never know, you might end up leading your clients to think of new, disruptive products or services for you to launch!

Margarita Peker is Communications and Insights Strategist for Klick Communications. She was named one of PR News’ Rising PR Stars 30 and Under for 2014. Follow her: @ritapeker