After the technology team, communication is the most critical area for a startup. Normally most startups are co-founded by people with some degree of technological background. Once the company has all their bases covered in terms of the technical team, the next hire should be a communications manager.
Communications seems to be one of the most neglected parts of a startup team. The organization never thinks of it until they need to launch a product or announce a new round of investment. At that point they’ll essentially hire a PR agency to do the dirty job for them.
Sadly, communications is one of those things you can’t outsource straight away. At least not immediately. Startups need to find their own voice and this takes time. The difference between what a PR agency sends to the press, and what gets sent by the CEO or founder of a startup is enormous. The founders have a very personal voice, full of passion and energy. This is exactly what journalists are looking for.
The problem is, despite their passion, it’s true that many founders are rather bad at communicating. This is why hiring someone to help with the effort is a great idea. It takes time to train them, they need to understand the product, the company, the founders and the whole startup culture. Learning all this and taking care of all communications is a full time job, and not an easy one, which is why few companies bother.
The job description
A good communication manager, though, is useful in many ways. For starters they can start building media relationships with both, journalists, customers and interested parties. I’ve said it many times now, communication strategy starts on day one, not when you launch your product. Once you launch, a good communications manager should already have a list of beta testers, including journalists, demo presentations for potential customers or providers, etc.
Apart from that more obvious part of the job, the comm manager is the one that’s going to engineer the noise that you need to be able to hire better talent. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered a founder asking me if I know of a good CTO or product manager, while being in stealth mode. The reason why you’re not hiring is because no one knows about your company. Engineers go and work for cool startups, not unknown boring ones. They want to be respected and brag about their role on a high impact startup.
Finally, a communication manager should be extremely useful if you’re raising a round. Having someone on the team whose role is to communicate to the world what you do and how badass you are is a critical part of being interesting for an investor. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about selling smoke, but about showcasing the real talent the startup has. While the founders are running around chasing investors, the comm manager should be generating content so that when investors look around, they get a great impression of the company.
All in all, having a communications manager is love and hate affair. It’s hard to find a good one, it takes time to groom them, but when done right, it’s one of the best hires your company can make to ensure both future exposure, top talent attraction and great media and investor relationships.
Photo credits: Jess Eriksson / Dilyan Dimitrov
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