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Bad hiring practices in startups are infamous and bad for the brand. Here’s how PRs can help

A startup’s hiring process is part of its brand. Get it wrong, and it can damage the brand. Get it right, and it can propel its growth.

Bad hiring practices in startups are, unfortunately, infamous. From hiring three roles under one job title, to putting candidates and freelancers through costly and time-consuming tests, startups can no longer use the fact they’re a bootstrapped startup as an excuse. Not only do they get a bad reputation in general, but the talented candidates they really need to hire actively avoid them. Regardless of intent, perception matters. How a startup hires is often their first foray into public relations and how they hire has a direct impact on how they’re perceived.

How PRs can help

With talent acquisition and strategic marketing key to go-to-market and growth strategies, what’s going wrong, and how can they fix it? Or rather, how can you as a PR consultant help them?

Don’t steal ideas

When startups begin interviewing before they really know what they want, they inevitably waste time - both theirs and the agencies or freelancers being interviewed - and often burn bridges. Asking freelancers to submit work for free as part of the interview process, because they haven’t figured out the hiring process is bad business. This is just one example of a badly thought-out hiring practice being publicly called out. Another - now well-known - example is with an American marketer, who publicly called out a brand for using their ideas from a pitch without hiring them for the work. The same company also came under fire in May 2019 after Manifest marketing boss Alex Myers tweeted that BrewDog had used their creative concept for Punk IPA but had not paid them for it.

Back to basics

Bad hiring practices are bad for PR. As the PR, this might not be an obvious remit of your role, so how can you tactfully advise? In the first instance, we need to take a step back. The appearance of mining for ideas typically happens because the brand in question isn’t clear on what it is they really want or need; all they know is they need help. Startups rarely set out to steal ideas; instead, the brief is invariably and often unintentionally fleshed out during the process, using candidates’ and prospective agencies’ ideas to steer the creative direction.

The best way to help, therefore, is before you’ve even started to work with them. And this might sound counterintuitive to many. However, startups are in a unique position where the insights they action can have a phenomenal impact. Either they can tunnel-vision down the wrong direction and waste budget, or they can strategically apportion marketing spend as investments and accelerate their growth. Trust and transparency are more than just PR buzzwords here, it’s about the relationships you have with the founders you work with. And this must be mutual. For example, the founder is clear on not yet having a defined brief - or perhaps even budget - and the dialogue isn’t treated like an interview or pitch. Instead, it goes back to basics: relationship-building and asking questions.

Ask questions

The best way to help a startup iron out their hiring practices, is to help them define what they need. Guide them by asking questions and investigate how their business strategy and goals are outlined. Key questions might include:

  • How are your marketing goals aligned with your business plan? If you are met with vagueness, this might be the time to introduce a CMO.
  • What do you want to achieve with PR? In other words, make sure that both you and the founder are clear on why you as a PR consultant have been hired.
  • What does the next stage of growth look like for you? Are they looking at a go to market strategy or a growth strategy? Are they looking to level up with a next round of fundraising, or do they need to fundamentally drive revenue through customer acquisition?
  • What kind of content have you produced so far? Repurposing and reframing existing content, so you’re not starting from a blank slate, helps resources go further whilst eliminating silos in marketing functions.

Asking these questions will help to eliminate poor recruitment practices where ultimately no one wins, because founders waste time and money, and the people hired (whether in house, freelance or agency side) are not set up for success.

Written by Roxanne Kingsman. director, Spreckley Startup Growth Hub and Spreckley PR

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