One of the most important things about being an entrepreneur is getting the word out. You can’t make money from something no-one knows about, which is why it’s vital to create a press kit and deal with the press.
However, if you lack the time to do these things yourself, you’re going to need to work with a PR firm. And even if you do have time, a PR agency’s expertise can potentially get what you sell in front of far more people than you’ll be able to do alone.
In this article, we outline how to maximize the chances of a perfect match with strategies to help you choose the right PR firm for your startup.
Find PR firms you like
Assuming you definitely need a PR firm (and that should really be your first question!), do plenty of research, and find press examples you like. Stash press releases, advertorials, websites, and social feeds. Although you may never contact the organizations responsible, these notes will help focus your mind on what you want, and could be useful to provide guidelines to companies you do engage with.
If you have friends and colleagues who’ve worked with PR agencies, ask for recommendations. But also ask about their experiences. What were the good things – and the bad things? What unexpected surprises did they find? What did they wish they’d asked up-front when talking to agencies during early meetings and subsequent presentations?
Decide on a budget
Figure out how much money you’re willing to spend on PR, and consider how you’d like to spend it. Ongoing retainers can be good for support, but you may find it better value to work with dedicated PR firms on one-off projects, see how things go, and take things from there. Also, explore whether to work on a flat-fee or a pay-on-performance basis.
Get the size right
It can be tempting to plump for a big PR firm – but smaller can be hungrier, and bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Larger companies can be impersonal, and you may end up working with a team rather than an individual. Smaller PR firms tend to be more niche and specialized, may get your brand into places larger firms would struggle with, and often offer better value.
Ensure the PR firm understands what you do
Learn what companies the PR firm has worked with, and if they understand what you do. Moreover, are they excited about it? If they exhibit some of the passion you hold for your work, that could suggest a good match. The partnership won’t work if they’re not fussed about what you’re trying to achieve. However, even if they love your ideas, that won’t be enough if they don’t work within relevant industries: an amazing gaming PR firm is unlikely to get your banking service in front of the right eyes!
Understand what they – and you – will do together
What has the PR company done to date? Get references from their clients – especially those you can talk to. View the firm’s online profile. Find out about their approach with journalists. What range of media are they able – consistently and demonstrably – to successfully get coverage in? Will they assist with events, reactions, social media, and content? And how will you yourself be expected to support the PR firm, in terms of content and your time?
Listen for ideas
When meeting with a PR firm, don’t expect them to give everything away before you start spending. But those who are enthusiastic, smart, and want your business, should be able to provide initial ideas about ways to get your message out there. Look for specifics; avoid the vague, generic fluff, and waffle. You want strategy and ideas beyond the obvious – not mere confirmation of what you’d already thought of.
Find out if they listen
PR firms are good at talking and persuading – they have to be. But you also need someone who will listen. In meetings, keep track of the conversation’s balance. If it too often swings towards how great the PR firm is, that’s a red light. If it’s all about you and they’re too quiet, that’s not good either. Your meetings should be discussions that get everyone excited.
Ensure they’re well-connected
A great PR firm should feel like a part of your team, but also part of a wider net of resources on which you can draw. They should be well-connected to journalists, but also potentially able to put you in touch with other PR firms (for example, to tackle something in a specific location or country); or if you need design work or copy-editing, it’s useful if they can make recommendations.
Find out about who you’d be working with
If the PR firm is an individual, you’ll quickly be able to glean a bit about them. For larger organizations, you need to know specifically who your main contact will be. It’s no good being wowed by a director, only to find you’re later working with a temporary intern. In all cases, determine expectations for availability and response times – in both directions.
Nail down expectations – and contracts
Ensure transparency from day one, and keep copious notes, even before you sign on the dotted line. You don’t want any nasty surprises later on. Examine any contract and compare with your expectations. Go over everything with a fine-toothed comb, and bring on a lawyer if necessary. Remember a contract is not set in stone – if you want changes, negotiate.
Go with your gut
If you get a bad feeling, don’t dismiss the PR firm outright, but do figure out why you feel that way. If everything feels great, obviously do your homework; but if you all get on, that’s an excellent start. A PR firm is someone you’ll likely work with often, and so you want to deal with someone who’s uplifting – rather than getting a feeling of dread every time their number appears on your phone!
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