When a company is just starting out, it’s difficult to know what to look for in a PR agency – or if you even need one in the first place.
There are a lot of moving pieces as a business gets off the ground, and PR might be one of the last things on your mind.
Many young companies try to muddle through marketing and PR without any outside help, but, eventually, you’ll grow to a point where a PR agency is a necessity.
What can PR do for startups? And how will you know when the company could benefit from an agency’s help?
We’re doing okay on PR, why would I even need an agency?
When a PR professional works with a startup, about 80 percent of his or her time is spent on strategy and education. It is the PR person’s job to tell you if the light you see is the end of the tunnel or an oncoming train, because we’ve already been through that same tunnel thousands of times.
Think of PR as an insurance policy. If you wait until after the “accident,” it will be way more expensive and not nearly as effective.
How do I know my company is ready?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Can I clearly articulate your business strategy and goals?
- Does my company have the capacity and time to dedicate to PR strategy, content and interviews?
- Has there been an influx of business that could potentially give us the momentum we need to focus on growing the brand, rather than just building the product?
If the answer is yes to all of the above, then it’s time to search for the right PR agency for your startup. Here are three things to think about when looking for a PR agency:
- Know your company.
First off, you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish. To communicate well with a PR agency, startup execs need to know their business objectives and what makes the company unique. To build a successful PR campaign, companies should have a mission in mind already. Otherwise, PR is scattered, disjointed, and ultimately ineffectual.
What really helps is if you have supportable, explainable, and perhaps against-the-grain views on issues related to your industry. Journalists are focused on the almighty click and less inclined to cover traditional hard news like product, customer and funding announcements.
- Find personality, not lists.
Often, startups will search for PR agencies that have built up big lists of media relationships, but that usually doesn’t matter. Journalists are pitched thousands of ideas every day, and just because your agency secured a briefing doesn’t mean the story will end up in print. Ideas and the ability to articulate them matter more than anything else. Find an agency that can help you brainstorm great ideas and has a track record of successfully implementing great ideas for their clients.
Impressive media lists also tend to distract companies from what really matters: the relationship with the agency and the fit with the company’s culture. Ideally, an agency should be a seamless extension of the business. The company should enjoy working with their PR team and feel that there’s a cohesion of ideas and strategies.
- Look for industry experience.
Your goal when interviewing any PR agency or PR professional is to understand how your prospects think and approach challenges. Ask how they would apply that thought process in a practical way for your company. The best way to find that out is to give them a communications scenario and ask what their approach would be.
It’s also important to find a PR agency that already has existing industry experience. Ask agencies what they think of your market, how they would position you, and what they would do to help you achieve your business objectives.
The value of PR
Since public relations firms have gone digital, the PR industry has dipped into everything from content marketing and lead generation to display advertising and analytics. The key is to find an agency that is willing to experiment and innovate alongside your company. The tech landscape is changing faster than ever, and the agency should constantly be taking a pulse of those developments.
In the end, your startup should be able to focus on building a great product and PR should help the product get attention from the audience that matters most. So once you think your startup is ready for that kind of attention, it’s time to find a PR agency.
Madge Miller is senior vice president of March Communications.
As Seen on Ragan’s PR Daily