October 24, 2023
In today’s social media driven world, it is difficult to keep anything under wraps. It has become human nature for people to communicate with their networks via social posts, reviews, or messaging chains about their experiences with businesses, products, or services that impact their lives. Particularly when it comes to digital platforms, consumers are not waiting for invitations to offer feedback, and companies are—for better or worse—not in control of who this content makes its way to. Audiences including journalists, potentially adversarial activists, and—where applicable—policymakers and regulators often first hear about emerging products and technologies through customer commentary. Given the scientific evidence on how difficult it can be to change a negative first impression, there is business and reputational risk in not developing a proactive communications and public engagement strategy at an early stage of business growth.
In a nutshell, just because an early-stage company does not take an interest in engaging with the media, policymakers, regulators, or other community stakeholders, it is certainly not to say that these actors will not take an interest in engaging with the company. Just like candidates for elected office, early-stage companies should follow the cardinal rule: define yourself on your own terms before others have the chance to do it for you! It is never too early…
Here are some key considerations early-stage companies should think about in developing a public affairs strategy:
Audience and Stakeholder Mapping: Who does the business touch and impact—directly or indirectly? Whether a product is distributed direct to consumer, via a business-to-business model, or through a more complex business-to-business-to-consumer pathway, it is important to understand which individuals and groups interact with it and when and how they are communicated with.
Message Development and Consistency: What is the core “sales” or “elevator” pitch being used with various audiences? Being intentional and consistent across your teams will become increasingly important with growth and scale
Government/Policy Nexus: Whether your business operates in a regulated space or not, it is important to have a working understanding of where, when, and how policymakers at varying levels (local, state, federal) may take interest in your offerings. While part of this exercise can serve as a regulatory threat assessment, there is also tremendous untapped opportunity in identifying where a product can address the needs of constituents and proactively discussing and amplifying alignment with policymakers.
Landscape Analysis: What competitors—large or small—are operating in your space? Who are they communicating with? Who are their friends? Who are their critics? Answering these questions can go a long way in impacting strategy development.
Media Engagement: When journalists come calling—or business leaders choose to proactively engage with them—it is imperative to be armed with a clear, direct, and persuasive message. Investing in media training and developing a smart outreach strategy based on your company’s beat and markets of interest can pay dividends and contribute to growth.
Engaging publicly can be intimidating to even the savviest business operators and can seem to carry more risk than reward. That said, in today’s ultra-connected world and communications environment, we do not get to pick and choose when to seek attention, and it is imperative to be prepared to do it on our own terms.
Please contact Jordan Stein if you are interested in learning more on how LSG can be your partner in developing an impactful engagement strategy for your early-stage company.