8 strategic communication tips for start-ups

George Oliver

Jun 23


min read

Start-up businesses face a unique set of strategic communications challenges.

In order to be successful, they need to create a clear and concise message, reach the right audience, and stand out from the competition.

This can be difficult when they are starting from scratch and don't have a lot of resources.

This blog post considers common communications challenges and opportunities for small businesses in the early stages of growth.

It inspired by research from Wiesenberg et al. (2019), who identified eight areas in which start-ups often face challenges with their comms.

We have mixed the eight themes which emerged from the research with 1284 founder George Oliver's own experience of corporate communication as a Chartered PR Practitioner and Chartered Manager.

Align start-up PR with organisational strategy

Strategic communication is the process of aligning communication with the goals of the organisation. In other words, it is using communication to achieve your objectives.

This likely involves integrating all forms of communication, including advertising, PR campaigns, marketing, and social media.

It is important because it helps businesses to understand why communication matters and how it can be used to achieve business objectives.

Effective strategic communication can help businesses to:

  • build brand awareness
  • improve customer relationships
  • drive sales
  • manage crises
  • protect their reputations

In today's competitive business environment, strategic communication is essential for all businesses.

By understanding and leveraging the power of strategic communication, businesses can gain a significant competitive advantage.

Give early consideration to corporate branding

The start-up phase is a particularly important period for the development of a company.

In order to ensure the long-term success of a start-up, it is essential to develop a strong and differentiated corporate brand.

This can be a challenge as start-up businesses simultaneously identify their target audience and create a unique value proposition.

Develop a positive external image

Creating a positive external image for your company is essential to attracting new investors, employees, and customers.

There are many ways to promote your reputation, including:

  • 'borrowing' the reputation of a more established firm through  strategic alliance
  • actively building your own, new reputation
  • leveraging your existing reputation for something else

However, one of the most important aspects of creating a positive external image is using language carefully.

For example, metaphors and storytelling can be effective ways to communicate complex ideas to potential stakeholders.

Language can also be used to create an air of mystery around your company, which can help to generate attention and interest.

Manage relations with ALL stakeholders

Depending on the industry, start-ups have to get in touch with different types of stakeholders.

These can include investors, customers, suppliers, and employees (more on this below).

While each stakeholder group is important, it can be challenging to prioritise them and establish effective communication.

This crowded microenvironment, coupled with a distinct lack of time, is why many start-ups struggle with stakeholder relations.

One of the main reasons why some start-ups find stakeholder relations difficult is because they are founder-centric (more on this below, too).

Another reason is that many start-ups are focused on financial resources. This means that other stakeholder groups are neglected at a time when establishing good communication with all stakeholders is essential.

Use storytelling to help win investment

Good communications to support investment in young companies can make a big difference to their success. Therefore, it is important for new ventures to have a strong, compelling story with consistent messages.

This story provides legitimacy for the enterprise in the eyes of investors, competitors and consumers, and can open up access to new markets and capital.

For example, by focusing on the investor relations of young companies, storytelling can be used can help build a strong foundation for success.

Some research attributes a significant influence on investment to symbolic actions.

Other research considers the reputation of start-ups in media outlets (and their media coverage) to be critical. This can be developed through tactics including:

  • press releases
  • media contacts
  • PR strategy

Think benefit (and risk) of focus on the founder

Entrepreneurs in newly started businesses need to think of communication strategically as they lack a track record.

As such, the communication function is often carried out by a founder, even though he or she might lack the necessary skills. This can lead to ineffective communication and a lack of understanding from stakeholders. It can also be brilliantly authentic and convincing.

By studying the way that founders communicate, we can start to understand how best to support them. There are various ways to improve and practice.

Research suggests that what Wiesenberg et al. term 'owner centricity' can play an important role in the effective communication of a start-up's value proposition.

Leverage the start-up narrative to attract great people

As we have seen, in today's business world communications play an important role in supporting organisational goals. They can also support management objectives too.

However, start-ups may not always prioritise internal communications as highly as established businesses.

This can lead to problems - especially for innovative start-ups that may already be facing a shortage of skilled workers.

On the other hand, creating a strong start-up culture can also be used to communicate the advantages of working for a start-up over an established company.

By focusing on management communications, growing start-ups can create a competitive advantage that will attract top talent.

Grow internal comms as you scale

As a start-up grows, that internal communication becomes more and more important - yet it's often overlooked.

Founders of growing start-ups often get into difficulties when the structured organisation of internal communication fails to scale with the business.

Weak internal communication processes serve to slow down the flow of information and increase misunderstandings.

Strong internal comms help to keep employees aligned with the company's goals.

As a result, internal communication should be given due importance in start-ups.

Not only does it save time and money, but it also helps to keep founders focused on the company's core mission.

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