A throwaway comment by a venture capital client – "for me, it’s more important for a start-up to have a corporate story than have a business" – underlined something that has always held true in the world of PR: if you’re a start-up with no revenues then at the very least you need a story.
It’s not just about having a clever idea; entrepreneurs need to be able to tell a good corporate story from the earliest moment of existence to be able to cut through the noise.
As social media break down the barriers of communication, grabbing attention gets harder and harder. If you’re just a couple of friends with a cracking idea, then you need a story to be able to attract attention, attract money – from investors who are looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – and to attract customers ready to fill that empty pot.
A good corporate story reads like any decent yarn, with appealing characters and a premise that has a promising start, an exciting middle and a happy ending – more Jack and the Beanstalk than Waiting for Godot.
Some investors, carefully sifting through the vast numbers of tech start-ups hoping to be the next Snapchat or WhatsApp, may argue that any fool can think up a story but building a sustainable business and generating a loyal customer base, whether paying or not, is the hard part.
But this is to ignore the all-pervasive nature of comms these days. More than ever what you say about yourself matters, and it’s best to get it right at the beginning. Formulating a corporate story can be a tough exercise for a company. Trying to get two or three founders to agree on what the core values are, what the mission statement of the company is – dare I say it, ‘the vision’ – can be a tough job. If you’re trying to reduce what you do to a few key words, each word bears extra weight. It’s worth the effort: we all feel we know the personalities of companies like Innocent, Dyson and Google.
For the cynical, it sounds like a lot of hot air but in this case, words do matter. There’s a reason that the positioning and key messaging work comes at the beginning of a comms relationship – everything stems from there. And before you’ve even begun talking to the outside world about it, you have your employees, who need to be all pulling in the same direction.
A corporate story is crucial, and those companies who haven’t worked out their ‘arc’ – where they’ve been, where they’re going, why they’re doing it – have the toughest time in generating press coverage that supports what they are trying to achieve.
The 22-year-old founder is a good hook but in the tech world, young box-fresh CEOs abound. It’s the ones who are able to say what the company is about, and why their mousetrap is better, who will be able to forge their own path in the corporate world.
Something that all companies, including the old economy dinosaurs, would do well to remember as they try to engage with an increasingly deafened public.
Juliet Callaghan (née Clarke) is head of technology, media and telecoms at Powerscourt