It was 2016, in a Las Vegas hotel on the outskirts of the strip because, well, money was tight. Adam Najberg was working for DJI, a drone company headquartered in Shenzhen, China, when a crisis hit.
A DJI drone had, apparently, hit a British Airways plane at Heathrow airport, and every news outlet on both sides of the pond immediately began coverage. At the same time, The Verge decided to add fuel to the fire and aggregated several recent incidents where people were able to easily take drones out of the sky.
Adam Najberg, Alibaba’s Global Head of Content and former WSJ reporter and editor at our annual Chinaccelerator 8×8 event
“We’re taught as journalists to observe, and these past several years I’ve done a lot of observing. While I don’t have a scientific result for you, I do have a lot of anecdotal evidence to support this next claim,” Najberg said. “Communications is the key area of a company’s development that is ignored, downplayed, delayed, and misunderstood, especially by startup companies.”
Najberg further explained how nearly 100% of the problems company’s encounter happen because they’re either not ready for communications, or they can’t afford it. Or, even worse, one of the company’s founders read a blog post about PR and now think that they can deal with the media and public about their company’s messaging.
“You’d never have an executive assistant design a fusion course, so why would anyone think an engineer who starts a company will know how to pitch features to the New York Times or diffuse a crisis with a newspaper?” Najberg explains. Failing to understand this can be ruinous for a company.
Najberg went even more in depth at our annual 8×8 talks, where he shared his eight reasons on why every company needs a PR team from day one, and how they can help control your company’s success:
1. You’re always one crisis away from utter failure
You might argue that statistically, since 90% of companies are supposed to fail, what difference does it make if you have a PR strategy or not? That argument is a moot point. It’s even more important for a small company to strategize because you’re vulnerable and you need an edge. If your brand takes a hit before it’s officially a brand, you wont make money, your reputation will be down the drain, and the problems may follow you as the founder. Everyone wants a leader with foresight, failing to invest in a communications team shows that you’re not that leader.
2. Control your narrative
Control your message. If you don’t tell your own story, somebody else will, and you may not like the results.
3. Bridge the gap between your brand and the public
You need to erase doubts, shape opinions, and create trust between your company and the public. Half of a young company’s problem is that they are not yet a brand. Know what you stand for and what you represent. Nobody knows who you are until everyone is sharing your brand messaging, and that’s what a communications team can do for you.
4. Making friends now creates sympathetic listeners later
Making friends with the media as early as possible creates sympathetic listeners later. Learn how to pitch journalists, dont ignore them. When you’re small and working your way up, that’s the time to make contacts. Be open, transparent, make your company and brand trusted and believable as a good entity. If something goes on, but you have friends in the media, you get the benefit of the doubt.
5. It’s better to have a canary in the coal mine than you
The head of PR is an early warning system. They’re your best sounding board and can tell you how something will resonate in order to avoid a crisis.
6. Your fellow founders and staff buy your vision, but will the public?
Communications can give you a reality check. Founders are prone to telling the public that they can land a colony on the moon BEFORE they’ve even tested the rocket. Communications can filter and focus direct inspiration for the public.
7. Would you rather shout yourself hoarse? Or use a bullhorn?
Communications teams can build your brand with the public. Your comms person may not be an electrical engineer, but they are a great social engineer. Let them talk to the people.
8. Ads rent attention. PR buys mindshare and loyalty.
Though advertising is great, as soon as it’s off, it’s already out of the publics’ mind. PR creates loyal clientele who believe in your company.
Najberg ended his talk by emphasizing that great PR people will always find a way to get reliable information out to the public and build your brand. Ultimately, they’ll help pivot before you make a mistake, and if you do make a mistake, they’ll help you navigate it to a win. You run better with others than you do alone, so trust in your communications team to help you find success.
To be mentored by Adam Najberg and other 400+ MOX mentors, apply to the program.