If you’re a startup looking into how to market your business, PR might seem like the answer – but what can you do if your startup budget won’t stretch to hiring an agency?
Lee McKervey is the founder of Bore Off, a clothing company based around bold slogans and attitude. Here’s why, and how, Lee decided to take PR into his own hands.
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Initially when I decided that I wanted to own a global-selling product I always had the words “do good with it” in my mind - and so just as it happens, my clothing brand Bore Off had capabilities to just that! However, the best way to do good with my business didn’t spring to mind right away. It wasn’t until I had done a campaign called Bore Off Bullies, which had a real positive impact for a local Coventry boy who had one of the worst bullying cases that this country had seen, that it was then I saw how positively Bore Off could be used for other campaigns.
Whilst going through the Virgin StartUp loan one of the criteria was that I had to put together a comprehensive business plan, and while putting this together I came up with the idea for #boreoffcancer after losing my mum to small cell lung disease in 2004. It was naturally a terrible time for everyone in the family but cancer support charities were there for us and helped us a lot - I wanted to give back somehow in some way for what they did for us all. So I started the campaign #boreoffcancer in memory of my mum.
Whilst doing my market research for the launch of #boreoffcancer I had to decide how I could get my campaign going with maximum impact. After extensive research doing it alone seemed a like an almost impossible task, as I knew I would need to have lots of celebrities involved to help spread the word and essentially raise money. I turned my attention to getting the help of an experienced PR company, one with contacts and know-how, so I decided to write a detailed brief about my brand and what it represented along with the #boreoffcancer campaign and send it to the top 100 PR companies in the UK as voted by PR week. The responses I received back were mixed, to say the very least, but a few stood out to me as affordable and with the experience we were after.
After several phone conversations and a couple of meetings I finally decided on a company that had the right contacts and experience, and which seemed to share the same enthusiasm as me. They were a proven company who in the past delivered big results - but after I hired them it felt as though things weren’t being done quickly enough. I was also conscious of getting a return on the money I was paying. Eventually I decided enough was enough and cancelled our working partnership, calling it a day despite being out of pocket.
Having to start over again with #boreoffcancer was frustrating, but I was determined, and had been teaching myself about the best ways to get in touch with celebrities and their agents. Just before I cancelled my working partnership with the PR company they had told me that they had sent lots of tees out to celebrities but were just waiting to hear back from them. Weeks went by and in the end I decided to give it a go myself. I bought a database of contacts for talent agents, wrote an engaging letter about the campaign, and sent literally hundreds of emails to talent agents to see if any of their talents would be interested in wearing a #boreoffcancer tee.
The next day I had three positive responses. Amazed and delighted, I sent the tees straight away using next day delivery, and two days later all three posted a picture of themselves wearing them. This was the turning point for me and the PR company - at this point they had spent five weeks doing what I had done in one day, and they had no results to show for it.
I continued with my approach, and despite a lot of ‘No’s’, every no and again a yes would come through and I managed to get more and more famous faces on board. The PR company that I hired did a handover for me and told me that they had sent a tee to Kate Moss’s agent but that nothing had come of it. Not one to take a no lightly, I contacted Kate’s agent straight away, and to my delight they agreed to do a shoot the next day for me. This was the breakthrough #boreoffcancer needed – soon lots of the agents that originally said no were saying yes. From there onwards I managed more celebs involved such as Sir Paul McCartney, Jessie J, Olly Murs, Cliff Richard, Ross Kemp, to name but a few. The exposure and awareness #boreoffcancer had through the help of celebrities has obviously been incredible, but the campaign wasn’t just about raising awareness - it was also to raise money that we could donate to charity.
However, considering all of the incredible endorsements that we had, we still didn’t manage to sell many t-shirts - just over 160, which we rounded up to a £1000 donation.
What I have learned from this experience is that likes are free, but that when it comes to selling there is a real science to it. Lots of new clothing brands pay a lot of money for things like celebrity endorsements, but they might not see a financial return. I also learnt that, as with so much else when you’re starting up, sometimes there’s no substitute for getting out there and doing it yourself – you are your brand, and often people respond to a personal approach rather than an agency.
My advice to any other clothing brands out there wanting to go down the celebrity endorsement route is if you want lots of social awareness as well as new followers then the celeb endorsement route is definitely a positive route to go down, but if it’s guaranteed sales that your after I would say it’s a bit of a gamble.
Following my experience I’m still continuing to carry out our #boreoffcancer campaign, but I’m also in the process of launching our new autumn winter clothing range ready for high street and online retailers, many of which have expressed interest thanks to the coverage we received.
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