Good press

5 tips for establishing your startup's communications and public relations plan

When it comes to setting up a PR plan for your startup, setting the right foundation is important. Getty Images

Once you've had the idea to create and sell a product or service, secured the funding to begin production, and managed to launch the company, the next step is garnering the public's attention to compete in the marketplace. That's where a communications and public relations plan comes in.

Whether you are looking at traditional earned media or hoping to gain credibility through social media channels, the right PR tactics can help you gain the awareness and recognition you need to build your company's reputation and success.

Set the goals for your communications/PR plan
First, you need to determine what you want to accomplish with your PR plan. Your plan will help brand your company leadership, products, and/or services with potential customers, business partners, future employees, prospective investors, and other stakeholders. Once you have settled on your goals, you should begin outreach to the media.

Build relationships
As a start-up, you may not have relationships with the media yet. That's okay. The key is to identify the respective reporters, producers, editors, bloggers, and social media influencers who cover your industry and begin reaching out and building connections with them before you start to pitch your story. Traditional media outlets receive hundreds of pitches and emails each week, larger outlets receive hundreds each day. Having relationships with reporters will be key to telling your story. Think of it as a partnership with the media in which you want to tell your story and at the same time provide them with quality content.

Tell your story
As a new company, telling your story is important; it is unique to you. Yet, the narrative is irrelevant if it doesn't move the public to action to buy, use, invest, report, or click. A storyline looks something like this:

  • Here is the existing service or product.
  • Here is our approach.
  • Here is why our approach is better.
  • Here is why our team is better.
  • Here is why you should use our product.

Continue to pitch
Once you have told your story, keep reporters, bloggers, and other media contacts looped in as your project progresses or your service line grows. Today's media outlets have fewer reporters than in the past, yet there are more and more stories being pitched. You can help these reporters by providing them with quality, relevant information and facts making their job easier.

Emailing the media is an excellent way to communicate with them. But remember, they receive many emails each day. Make your subject line short and sweet, and incorporate action words to help your email stand out among the competition. Ensure the body of your email is quick and to the point, as well, using bullet points if possible. If your email contains too much text, it will be deleted.

Additionally, make sure the timing is appropriate when you send a story idea. Plan appropriately and pitch your story well ahead of time. Be aware of any internal deadlines the outlet might have. Don't send a pitch or expect much coverage when there are big events happening, such as an election, College Football Championship, or an unexpected weather event.

Think digitally
I have seen too many companies ignore the importance of social media and a useful website. These tools give your company credibility. A website need not be complicated or fancy, but it does need to be updated, relevant, and have the basics on your company and leadership. Additionally, customers will search for you on social media sites. It is not necessary to have a presence on all social media channels, but do choose one or two and make a habit of posting regularly.

As with all facets of launching a business, take the time to learn the importance of communications tactics and strategies and utilize them to help launch your company into a successful future.

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Elizabeth Biar is vice president of Strategic Public Affairs, a government elations and PR/communications firm based in Houston.

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Auburn University's SwiftSku took first place in this year's virtually held Rice Business Plan Competition, but it was the second place company that went home with over half a million in cash and investment prizes. Photo via rice.edu

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

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