PR When You’re Not A Startup Anymore

David Martin, Heed Public Relations

When you’re a startup darling, earning media looks very different than it does a few years down the road when, well, you’re not a startup anymore.

So how does a business amend its PR stance when their launch is quickly fading in the rearview mirror? I talked with Bellhops communication director, Kyle Miller, about this and he shared helpful insights.

The “Uber of Moving”

It’s hard to believe — it is for me, anyway — that Bellhops is roughly seven years old now. When I was with the company a few years ago, they’d just secured their Series A fundraise and were in the process of introducing their services to over a hundred cities across the United States.

The PR game at Bellhops then was rooted in a dual-pronged approach: land as much local earned media as possible, and then use those media hits as a foundation to engage national audiences.

But how to explain ourselves quickly to media outlets?

“We’re kind of like the Uber of moving.”

We said that — hold on, let me grab my calculator — approximately 1.7 kazillion times.

And no matter how imperfect that comparison was, it created a reference point for reporters and their audiences, and it helped us gain tons of earned media coast to coast, from local newspapers to some of the biggest outlets in the world.

PR as a marathon

In the spring of 2017, I left Bellhops to help launch another company, and Kyle Miller took over the Bellhops PR reins. Leadership was really excited to bring Kyle on board after my departure — like, almost too excited (side glancing right at ya, Cam Doody) — and under Kyle’s purview the company’s public-facing presence has successfully evolved into a new phase.

No longer the new kids on the block, Bellhops today positions itself in what Kyle calls “a four-sided marketplace.” They have to attract and retain:

  • Bellhops (the actual movers)
  • Professional truck drivers
  • Customers
  • Talent to work at headquarters

Creating messaging that engages each of those marketplaces, and getting the results they want/need, is no easy chore. To win at it, Kyle leans heavily on two PR pillars.

The first is the understanding that “good PR is a marathon.” Seven years after Bellhops’ launch, the organization can no longer look for one-off successes. They now have a better understanding of what strategies work and they’re “focusing on long term initiatives like Cause PR and subject matter expert categories.”

The second pillar is to “be more than a press release” — I’d like to interject here with a quick “amen!”

Kyle uses a mix of:

  • Press releases
  • Direct pitching
  • Written and video content
  • Email marketing
  • Social media
  • Influencer relations

Through these many channels, Bellhops tells stories that are crafted to resonate with the various audiences making up their “four-sided marketplace.”

Staying true to your roots while looking ahead

Yet even if their specific tactics change, Bellhops remains true to its roots — this is clearly visible in their public persona.

Seven years later, the core value of a “playful spirit” is still imprinted on all things Bellhops, and their lead Cause PR initiative is higher education support, as they award $10,000 worth of scholarships annually to their college-aged workforce.

Kyle also works hard to tether the Bellhops brand to Chattanooga’s Gig City narrative. It’s a win-win for both parties because as he puts it, “when Bellhops grows, the Chattanooga story grows and vice versa.”

Bellhops is a fascinating case study in the maturation of a startup’s PR strategy. This, of course, is not to suggest they’ve reached some sort of communications summit, because, in Kyle’s words, “if you want to be a continued success, you have to constantly be asking, how can we do this bigger and better.”

And I have a feeling Bellhops will continue to figure that out.

David Martin is the founder of Heed Public Relations.

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