Startup PR: increasing awareness and becoming an expert
For new businesses, raising brand awareness is the key to building a community of fans and driving sales. A good way to do this is to highlight the expertise of the founder or co-founders with public appearances and authoritative content.
When I started Mummy Cooks, there was no such thing as a ‘weaning expert’ in Ireland. By virtue of being the first person to start talking about this topic, I became the weaning and feeding expert – initially for Eumom and then for MummyPages. I also became the weaning expert for the Pregnancy & Baby fair; talking at events in Dublin, Belfast and Cork.
In order to promote my fledgling business, I started to work on my PR. I have a friend who helps me write up my press releases, and then I contact the various media contacts myself to see if they’re interested in the story. This personal touch goes a long way. I’ve also found it useful to reach out to mums in the media – I send my products to new mums and they almost always feature me in their magazine or paper.
Getting on television
I’ve also been able to get some appearances on TV, which has been incredibly helpful to the brand. My daughter and I appeared on a few slots on Ireland Am, and then on RTE’s Today. Often, openings like these are down to luck, and being in the right place at the right time. However, it’s also about creating these opportunities and putting yourself out there. In my case, the RTE appearance came about because I was producing online content for the RTE Food website. We were filming a video for this, which the Today show producer saw, and he asked if I would come to Cork to cook on the show.
Being on TV wasn’t something I had ever thought about, or in fact wanted to do, but when it can drive traffic to your website you soon lose the nerves! Becoming an expert in a particular area means that you have to be confident when speaking about the topic. Contact the media and let them know that you are prepared to write about your subject area, or go on TV. Don’t be shy!
Blogging and content partnerships
I started writing blog posts about weaning and feeding young children, and we also started writing recipes. I saw an opportunity to share our content with other online content sites, so we partnered with media providers as a way to grow our brand without a huge marketing spend. I used my network to get an introduction to the content editor of RTE, and because she could see that we were already producing great content, she gave us a weekly slot on their website. They get our content, and in exchange we get links back to the website. We have nurtured similar partnerships with Xposé Parenting, MyDealDoc, SuperValu, MummyPages and GloHealth. We also recently took part in the Tesco Back to School campaign – creating recipes and food hacks for parents.
Increasing awareness of our brand does not lead to instant sales, and it has possibly been a slower road for us than if we had invested in direct marketing. But our hard work is now paying off, as we’ve been able to see with our recent food flask product launch… mums who had previously purchased from us or connected through our recipes have been buying this new product because they trust the brand. Sales since January have been really strong and we are now planning to launch other colours.
Engaging social media content
Social media is another place where you can build your reputation, and once again it’s about producing good quality content that’s helpful and raises awareness of your product. Here too, brand image is important, so on social media we pay attention to our message, language and image. We keep the way we write content consistent across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Each post is friendly and helpful and I always sign it myself. Because I’m a mum of two young children, customers know that I’ve experienced the same issues around weaning and food as they have, and that helps to build trust.
I get emails every day from other mums asking if I can help them. Obviously, I’m not a doctor, so it’s important to seek professional advice from a doctor or dietitian if the problem persists. However, there are tactics and improvements I can share with them that can help. Simple things, like asking someone else to feed the child so that they don’t pick up on mum’s stress, can have a huge impact. Sharing these insights with other mums is an important part of what our brand is about, and it’s a great way to build our community of loyal fans.
Our next step is creating videos to get our message out there and drive product sales. This has been a difficult step, mostly down to cost. We’ve been focusing on growing organically, and we don’t have a large marketing budget to call on. At first, we went for a budget option, but the videos weren’t really in line with our expectations. It’s crucial when you’re building brand reputation in this way that everything fits with the image you are creating, so I’m always thinking about the overall brand experience. We were recommended another video producer, and although this time the cost was higher, we’re really happy with the results. We’ve created a series of recipe videos that back up our core messaging about weaning and show how useful our products are. These will be great for brand awareness, and we can share them with our media partners.
Choose opportunities carefully
Becoming an expert and raising awareness is as much about what you don’t do as anything else. For instance, I was asked to become a brand ambassador for a company that had had some very bad press. While I would have been well paid for it, I knew that there wouldn’t have been any positives for the brand image I had spent a long time building, and luckily I declined. Listen to your gut and if it feels wrong, don’t do it!
Also, be careful not to associate yourself with too many brands. Make sure the companies you partner with are a good fit in terms of their ethos as well as their relevance to what you do. You should also consider whether they want to partner with you because they are thinking about moving into your space in the future – in these cases there’s no point you giving them a boost just so that they can take over your market share!
Obviously, some partnerships come with financial compensation, and some don’t… so when doing any free promotion for other brands, think about how you will be able to build on it for the benefit of your own brand. For instance, I’ve done talks at baby & toddler events, which I’m happy to do for free because I’m able to present my products to an interested audience, and the organisers also promote our business on social media.
It’s all a case of balance. Although I do events for free, it is important to make sure you are getting enough back – for instance, that the audience is large enough and you will get good PR from it. In the past, I wasn’t always as cautious. I agreed to do one event on the basis that there would be lots of people attending and I was likely to make plenty of sales. I interrupted a family holiday to travel to the event, only to find that just four people had turned up.
Becoming an expert in your field is about looking for, and being open to, opportunities to talk about your expert topic and share your experiences. You’ll need to work on your confidence and be prepared to put yourself out there, of course! And the other key element is to consider any channel, and balance any offers you get, to make sure the opportunity is of benefit to your brand.