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After his recent session with the Upscale founders Doug Monro, co-founder of job search engine Adzuna, shares his insights on ‘PR on a shoestring – the first steps’

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Six months after launching Adzuna, we found ourselves being talked about everywhere in Britain — a full page story in The Sun, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, columns in most of the other nationals (online and offline) and pickup in hundreds of regional newspapers, radio stations, trade publications and blogs.

How? Simple: We played to our strengths — using the data we live and breathe every day, and it didn’t need to cost a fortune.

And the results spoke for themselves – we saw record traffic and brand searches on our site, new inquiries from advertisers, and lots of links that helped us with SEO. Startups like Adzuna generally struggle to afford brand advertising, but that doesn’t mean they can’t build brands, and deliver great PR from early on – if they are smart about it.

Here are four reasons we think our early efforts were so successful:

1. It was newsworthy

Unemployment was – and still is – a hot topic on the news agenda. Government data that comes out each month gets lots of attention, but little other data was available. Finding work is a big issue people need help with, and people have a vested interest in their local area, so we had an idea that connected to the public, and an information gap we could help the media fill.

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2. It was carefully timed

We timed this story to come out 3 working days after the official unemployment data, which we used as part of our analysis. Releasing the same day runs the risk that the journalist has already written their story – 2 weeks after it feels like it is no longer fresh. Traditionally, stories timed around known events or key calendar dates work well.

3. Our data was good

Credibility with national journalists is tough to achieve as a startup. One way to get over this is simply to produce great, compelling analysis from data that sells itself. Fortunately, many tech startups live in that world of Big Data and therefore can mine their databases to produce insightful and comprehensive analysis and stories that easy to use.

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4. We targeted carefully

Approaching the right journalists is key, although it can take a lot of prep work. We found it well worth the time to build a sell-in list individually for every release, get access to tools to get lists of the relevant writers, then research whether your story is relevant to them, and track down their contact details. Write a custom covering email that explains why you think this might work for them or where you think it realistically fits for their publication. If appropriate, offer them specific additional data (for example about their local area) or even produce tailored, different versions of your story for different segments.

… And we had some good luck

We had two big strokes of luck on this first big story – there was no big news event on the day we released that dominated the media agenda. Secondly, the Press Association wrote up the story, and their newswire syndication automatically feeds your story into some of the regionals and onto the desk of many journalists. Without the PA, we might have got 20 rather than 100 pieces.

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And in terms of expensive resources, agencies and press distribution network, our total cost was… absolutely nothing. We sourced and analysed the data ourselves, researched and wrote the story in-house, and dedicated some man hours to selling it in.

Four years later, how did we scale this up? Becky Harkins – Head of PR at Adzuna:

Fast forward 4 years and Adzuna’s PR landscape looks very different, with a dedicated in-house PR team, a retained press agency and not hundreds, but thousands of press mentions to our name, from broadcast channels, national newspapers and key regional and trade publications, both online and offline.

Our report on job competition has evolved into a monthly index received and relied upon by hundreds of national journalists, economists, and politicians. More widely, as a business, we’ve bagged dozens of awards, become a trusted data source for Number 10 Downing Street and joined Tech City UK’s prestigious Future Fifty programme.

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For later stage startups, here are a few tips we’ve put together on how to make the leap from one off PR success to a more sustainable, mature model that suits the demand of a growing, evolving business.

1. Use resources wisely

As your business or funding grows, you may find yourself no longer constrained by such a shoestring budget, which is a fantastic feeling. Recent years have seen Adzuna raise millions from VCs and crowdfunding, invest in our first TV and tube campaign and become a go-to data provider for national press. Our retained PR agency get the Adzuna brand, and work tirelessly on promoting Adzuna’s monthly Job Market Report, and focus on further building our credibility. Our (small) in-house team focus on growing new areas of our press presence, building our profile as a tech innovator, and creating other exciting data-led stories. We’re still hands-on from founder level down in writing stories and talking directly to journalists – not hiding behind our agency.

We’ve continued to leverage our core strengths – unique forward-looking insight into the UK job market, interesting, timely data and quick turnaround times. And all that helps us continue to tell an interesting story.

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Whatever resources become available to you as you grow, it’s always key to remember where your strengths lie and make sure you maximise all your resources: perhaps your customer services team are secret social media superstars, your sales team are well connected in key media segments or your tech expert also has a great way with words?

2. Don’t take your eye off the end goal

How to measure the success of a PR campaign is a perpetually hot topic in the business community, and rightly so. In our experience, the answer differs from one organisation to another. Rather than look to external models of PR evaluation, we’ve kept our analysis very closely linked to our overall business goals. As well as analysing coverage, we track brand traffic trends, links and new user registrations. Taking a bespoke approach means PR plays a central role in helping our business grow and thrive, as we move through 2016.

3. Build and optimise relationships. Constantly

A significant amount of our monthly press coverage now comes from journalists who know us well and have written about us before. Developing relationships, both existing and new is key to success. Work your network, buy coffees and lunches.  And when you have a good story, don’t be afraid to phone the right people up and tell them about it – (in 30 seconds or less, ideally between 10 and 11am) – then email it over. That said, there’s a fine line of course between being persistent and annoying people.

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4. Never stop telling stories that are relevant to your brand

From our perspective, the message of our stories fits our brand. As a job search engine, we aggregate nearly every job ad in the UK in one place, which means we’re uniquely placed to provide comprehensive, up to date info on job vacancies. Every story we tell emphasises the real-time, insightful nature of our data, and highlights Adzuna as a great source of information on the jobs market, without us needing to say it out loud.

And a bit of luck still plays a part.

The news agenda is ever-changing, and one strong echo of those early days of Adzuna PR pervades – the best thought-out story in the world can go unreported if breaking news dominates the day. We plan hard, create exciting stories, and keep a flexible approach to our PR – and we aren’t afraid to learn and adapt our approach when things don’t go quite the way we anticipated!

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