AS the owner of a small public relations consultancy, I was pleased to read recently that we are in “a golden moment for entrepreneurship in the UK”.
That quote is from Rohan Silva, a man who you would expect to be in the know (more on former government advisor, Mr Silva, below).
However, before the warm, golden glow had fully flowed over me, I read further into the article that a lack of media coverage could hold back entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial communities. The gist of the piece was that the media, traditional and through new technologies, is a key component in a well-oiled start-up community; without it, it is difficult to attract investors and other key audiences like employees and commercial partners.
Because I am a small, growing business and I also work with quite a few others of the same ilk (and indeed have helped to raise the profile of our own entrepreneurial communities in Scotland), I thought it would be worth scratching the surface a bit more on the subject.
Well over 90 per cent of Scotland plc is made up by small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The youngest, fastest-growing of our SMEs, so-called ‘gazelles’ represent less than ten per cent of economic output but are crucially important for several reasons, not least because they make up almost half of new jobs created in Scotland. And, as we all know, today’s small businesses are the big businesses of tomorrow.
It’s no surprise that many of these ‘gazelles’ have a strong tech or e-commerce makeup. Could any business really thrive in today’s commercial world without a web-first philosophy (a phrase coined by another government adviser, a certain Martha Lane Fox)?
Scotland’s report card for fostering this type of enterprise is encouraging, no less than the FT has just identified Edinburgh as the UK’s most important start-up community outside London and its world-renowned and much written about Tech City. Meanwhile, Glasgow has won central government funding to help it become one of the UK’s first ‘smart cities’, alongside Birmingham and London; an important step in becoming a tech cluster or hub in its own right.
While economic experts unanimously agree that successful technology clusters are required for the successful modern economies of the future, there is a notion around the edges of Scotland’s start-up communities that a lot more could be done to support young, fast-growing companies away from investor-friendly London and the South-East of England. And multiple commentators have suggested that access to start-up money remains a major stumbling block for fledgling Scotland-based enterprises.
David Cameron’s recently-departed senior policy adviser, entrepreneurship guru and self-styled architect of Tech City, Rohan Silva (remember I said I’d come back to him), said last month that Press coverage is a central plank for businesses trying to get on to the radar of investors. The perceived challenge for Scotland’s ‘gazelles’? The Press can be a thicket to navigate and is largely based in London. If you can’t get into the Press, how do you get to investors who are located in London or the USA, in the main? Out of sight, out of mind?
Fortunately, Scotland’s most exciting young companies have got a couple of major ‘pros’ to even out the ‘cons’ when it comes to the Press (and hence getting onto the radar of investors and other important audiences). Firstly, with the right approach London-based journalists will entertain stories about Scotland’s smaller companies. As one senior London-based business editor said to me recently: “We’re always looking for the next big thing, whether it’s a company based in Shoreditch or Leith.”
Secondly, as importantly, Scotland has a highly-rated stable of Press titles and outlets that are read and respected throughout the UK, including in London, and further afield. An example: we recently put out a media release for a leading Scotland-based technology company. While the release didn’t get picked up at first by a leading international tech news outlet (and a primary target for the release), that changed when one of its US-based editors picked up on the story from one of Scotland’s daily online editions and went on to write about the announcement.
Having said that, I know for a fact that there are still plenty of young, fast-growing companies out there, ‘micro-multinationals’ as one CEO of a Scottish ‘gazelle’ I know terms this class of enterprise, competing on a global basis yet frustrated by the lack of opportunity for Press coverage to support their businesses and help connect with investors and other key audiences.
Academic research published this month suggests that while the press remains an important route to capturing investor attention, Twitter use by smaller companies is increasingly opening doors to investor communities; and an added advantage of using new technologies to connect with investors is the instant and direct qualities inherent to platforms like Twitter. But for every fan of Twitter, there is a detractor who says that the platform has become too crowded a space; this latter category frequently prefers the digital platform provided by LinkedIn. Then again, a third category would suggest that Twitter and LinkedIn work best in tandem rather than independent of each other.
Overall, we like to think that the use of traditional media – combined with a digital strategy that includes Twitter, LinkedIn and search engine optimisation (SEO) – is often the best way to proceed for Scotland’s small but fast-growing companies. Get these disciplines right from the start and they become embedded in the company’s external communications function, ready to support the next growth phase in the business.
Underpinning all of the above, a foundation of belief and confidence is a must for Scotland’s burgeoning start-up communities. London’s Tech City was only launched at the end of 2010 and look how it’s come on since. While geographical location can play a big part in the success of a start-up community or technology cluster, maybe we should be repeating a new mantra in Scotland: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
Nick Freer is the founder of the public relations company, Freer Consultancy. He is a former corporate affairs adviser to the BBC, Deloitte and the Guardian Media Group. His clients include Skyscanner and Blackcircles.com.
Pic: Colin Hattersley.