July 02, 2015
By Brandon Tan

Kick-starters, Communication is still King

Against the backdrop of shiny skyscrapers housed by some of world’s top financial powerhouses to boast, the Singapore government is pumping funds in the billions to incubate a start-up culture on its island. The government has rolled out a host of grants, such as Accreditation@IDA (in which one of Rice’s client TagIT is certified), Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) scheme, Technology Incubation Scheme (TIS), and the list goes on.

Just last year, SPRING Singapore, a government agency tasked to help Singapore enterprise grow, announced its partnership with three MNCs (one of which is Rice’s client - National Instruments) to assist local SMEs in achieving domain knowledge and competencies. The Singapore Budget 2015 released recently further attests to the government’s resolve in putting Singapore on the entrepreneurial map.

On the back of such a strong governmental backing and industrial partnership, one cannot help but believe that Singapore start-ups are poised for success. However, the old adage ‘good reputation maketh the brand’ still remain very relevant in today’s world. Not to mention that under the weight of good repute is an effective communications strategy tailored to raise seed fundings, awareness, as well as influence policies and stakeholders.

The year 2014 was a banner year for public relations (PR) mishaps amongst start-ups in the technology sector. Closer to home in Singapore, there was a tech company which took a hit after a large chunk of its internal Whatsapp chat log containing abrasive comments on its influencers was released online for public purveyance.

Further down south, we have a Taxi-app company, where at the height of the Sydney Siege, was forced to U-turn its policy after news of its drivers taking advantage of the crisis by tripling their ride charges broke out.

The aforementioned examples clearly show that communications can negatively impact companies, especially start-ups, if they do not have a solid communications plan to keep their reputation in check.

Given limited budget that characterize a typical start-up, a mere mention of ‘reputation’, ‘crisis', 'brand’ or ‘PR’ may send jitters to even the most savvy of entrepreneurs, particularly when communications is often misunderstood as the chic tool only the big players can afford. Well, truth is, communications is free! We have been doing so the whole life, except that some do it better than others.

For kick-starters with at least a communications expert in the team, good on you! But for those who prefer to engage a PR agency to do the job, it won’t cost an arm or a leg. A good PR agency draws on a cost-effective but highly focused and tailored PR strategy to help bridge the gap towards business success. They are transparent in their terms of engagement, and they proactively seek avenues to expand brand visibility and ROI by growing business network. From my past experience as both an in-house and agency consultant, a good PR team is one that is as cost-conscious as the client, there at every step of their way, and more importantly, one which develop an inexplicable form of chemistry with them to make them tick.

Granted (no pun intended), some start-ups may prefer to handle PR in-house. For that, I'd recommend them to apply for the PIC scheme to defray training costs involving PR. After all, having some PR knowledge beats having none.

To conclude my first contribution to Rice Roll, it is important to be mindful that the evolving technological landscape will continue to shape the way people communicate their brand experiences every day, so should companies stay on their toes with the way they engage their stakeholders. Communication is still king.