Over the past 18 months, in addition to my day job I’ve been running EE’s partnership with Tech City – the technology cluster in east London that’s home to some of the UK’s most exciting start-ups.
These are smart people. The UK’s future billionaires. It’s an area full of ambition, excitement, imagination and dedication. And it’s digital. Proper digital. It’s more digital than C3P0 wearing a Fitbit while programming a Dyson drone. Yes, east London has become the centre of the UK’s digital universe.
It’s an area bursting with ideas that are ready to be launched. So why do so many fail to make it to the next stage? The key issues are distribution, scalability and, importantly, awareness.
In the fight for awareness, their first challenge is financial. If a young entrepreneur is struggling to meet the rent, why would they contemplate spending even £500 a month on PR? But what about when they get their first £50k cash injection? How about the first round of six-figure-funding? The first million? At what point does the entrepreneur place their first bet on PR?
There is also an inherent digital and social mindset among this community of developers, coders and creators in which PR can often be equated with a growing following on Twitter.
And therein we all have a problem. These businesses want to scale up and sell. They want to be cherry-picked by the global venture capital firms – the folk who may catch up on Twitter for the latest Yankees result, but who are more used to getting their insight from their accelerator tipsters and the business pages of the FT and The New York Times.
While free digital channels can offer a cheap PR alternative, at some stage a successful start-up will ultimately need someone to manage their brand reputation with traditional media.
So where are we as the PR industry going wrong? We’re significantly better value than our marketing cousins, we have the same entrepreneurial DNA as the entrepreneurs themselves, and we come equipped with an army of media contacts who are just itching for us to help them uncover the next WhatsApp.
There is no doubt the digital revolution will be as impactful on our society as the industrial revolution was. It will change the way we work, teach, shop and interact.
But while in the space of a decade digital has had a major impact on the way communicators, marketers and journalists do their jobs, the 20th century media stalwarts of newsprint, TV and radio aren’t dead yet – in fact they are growing online.
Traditional media may be facing challenging times, but the old giants still cast a spell over some of the most influential people in society. And, until the digital natives come through en masse to take their rightful place at the head of future governments, businesses and organisations, they will continue to do so.
The opportunity to unleash the potential of these start-ups with rounded PR support and smart PR thinking is just crying out to be unlocked right now. Makes you want to start up your own PR agency. Now, where’s that pad and paper?
Stuart Jackson is a former comms director of EE, and now runs the company’s CEO office. He is about to launch his own agency.