By Jessica Gillingham, Founder & Director of Abode PR an award-winning B2B public relations agency focused on raising the profile of transformative technology solutions operating within the global short-term rental, hotel and real estate ecosystems. 

Back in 2017 when I first founded Abode PR, an agency focused on partnering with global property and hospitality technology solutions, the first question I asked the tech startups I was connecting with was what they believed they needed in order to succeed in business.

Almost invariably they’d say a) they needed to gain recognition in their marketplace or b) they needed their marketplace to understand the value of their offering and/or c) they needed to foster and nurture trust with their potential customers.

As a sector specialist, our initial vertical was the vacation rental or ‘Airbnb’ ecosystem (we’ve since expanded into hotel tech and property tech for other lodging types such as purpose-built student accommodation, retirement living and commercial properties).

The short-term industry is a hybrid between property and technology which has not only attracted a great deal of investment over the last few years, but has also generated a slew of new technology solutions – many of which compete with each other for a customer base of professional property managers, homeowners and hosts. 

If I had to sum up in one word what these startups really need, it is a Reputation. And they want it fast.

Delving deeper, there are 4 reasons why startups need a reputation:

  • To build trust in their business 
  • To position their offering and reach better customers
  • To gain a competitive edge and become ‘Thought Leaders’ and experts in their field
  • To grow their reach, visibility and improve their positioning on search engines
  • Looking even more holistically, what these businesses want is to create a brand presence.

The fundamental essence for any business to achieve sustainable growth over the long term and the driving force of all good PR strategies. 

Back in 2020, when the world went upside down due to Covid, the benefit of having a strong brand became really, really clear to Brian Chesky, the CEO and co-founder of Airbnb. In March 2021, the online property rentals company announced it was moving its spend away from performance marketing into brand marketing with a focus on public relations. 

This is what Chesky had to say about that decision as reported by Campaign;

“In 2019, we had elevated spending of performance marketing and then 2020 occurred, our business dropped by 80% in eight weeks, and we pulled back all marketing, including performance marketing. But something remarkable happened. Even before we started resuming our marketing spend, our traffic levels came back to 95% of the traffic levels of 2019 without any marketing spend. And what this revealed is that our brand is inherently strong. It’s a noun and a verb in pop culture.”

“During the final three months of 2020, more than 90% of our traffic was direct or unpaid, and we think that will continue in the future. Our marketing plan, therefore, our strategy is the following: a full-funnel marketing approach. The top of the funnel is actually PR. And that’s how we really built the brand of Airbnb – more than anything, probably, is PR. Second is brand marketing. We think of brand marketing as education and an investment.”

What Airbnb and others like it understand is that a strong public relations and content marketing strategy is a powerful tool for reaching new and better customers by consistently positioning your value proposition, educating the market on your solution and influencing buying decisions. It’s the basis for a strong brand presence by building awareness coupled with trust and the end result is a solid and long-lasting reputation.

However, public relations isn’t just a one-way street of ‘getting’. It also involves a two-way conversation through listening and learning about what matters for your customers – a strong element in brand building. PR is an ideal process for discovering how best to connect with stakeholders. Using messaging and content that ‘touches’ your core market is something that PR excels at – strengthening your brand in the process.

Over the last few years I’ve had many more conversations with tech start-ups. The answers relating to their business growth don’t change, but what is evolving is that more and more companies are looking to PR to solve the four fundamental questions around trust, visibility, credibility and positioning to build resilience in the market.