How to Hire a PR Firm and What to Expect

It turns out a PR firm isn’t always beneficial to your business. The biggest lesson is that you need to craft your own story about your business. You know more than anyone else. It’s also very expensive, so if you can learn to do some of it on your own, like hiring a freelance writer to help you write a story and then you pitch it to journalists, then that will save you a heck of a lot of money. Another disadvantage is that they do their job of booking media coverage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get more customer as a result.

Having said that, there are certain instances when hiring a PR firm is beneficial. Read on to help you decide:

  1. When a PR firm is beneficial for your business
  2. How to hire a PR firm if you decide to do so
  3. When not to hire a PR firm if you can help it

1. How a PR firm can help your business

  • HELP YOU ESTABLISH A STORY THAT ELICITS EMOTION: Your company’s core story should address the problem that you’re aiming to solve and explaining why it matters. It should include where the idea first came from too. Pull on some heartstrings. Expose the problem or opportunity for an improved life that your audience may not realize it needed. If you don’t have this, you need it, and PR agents can be helpful in identifying this central “so, what?” of your brand. (Medium article)
  • LEVERAGE THEIR LOCAL NETWORK: There are times when a PR professional can be of value to you: For example, if you run a small business that is based in a specific city, and you will only be dealing with local and regional press. In that case, there may be a few key reporters and editors who cover your relevant beat. Therefore, hiring a flack with local knowledge and strong local connections could certainly be useful. As your company and budgets grow, when you can afford to bring in a full-time PR and communications pro, whose job it is to always keep pitching and look for media opportunities, do it. But until then, keep media management within your own realm. (Fastcompany article)
  • REVITALIZE A PRODUCT OR SERVICE: Sometimes even the best in-house PR mavens can run out of good ideas. Just as in a re-brand or website redo bringing an outside agency to revitalize your PR can pay huge dividends. Good PR agencies know how to look at a product, service, or company and see something new – something buzz worthy. Something that you think is dead or tired can quickly be taken to a new market or a new outlet and quickly gain legs. Using a PR firm that can quickly dial up their contacts and test new ideas can spring to life a fading product or business. Remember though, even the best PR can’t revive a dying product, make sure there is something there and be honest with your agency about past successes and failures so they can provide proper strategy. (Martech article)
  • DRAW INVESTORS TO YOUR BUSINESS: In marketing your new business, utilizing PR can attract investors to your brand, which is especially beneficial when you’re just starting out. A carefully planned PR strategy can generate positive media coverage, giving you a better negotiating position with potential investors. Additionally, well-executed PR makes your business appear larger and more established, which can help you secure partnerships and funding (Walkersands article).

2. How to hire a PR firm

  • DEFINE YOUR GOAL FIRST BEFORE LOOKING FOR A PR FIRM: As with all PR and marketing programs, I always advise defining goals before getting too far into making decisions about retaining an agency. We must recognize that strategy is the first step to success and leads to tactical execution. I am a firm believer that good strategy starts with goals. As you look to hire a PR firm, decide what you are trying to achieve. A few great examples are: brand awareness, thought leadership, attention for a specific product or program, etc. (Meltwater article)
  • LOOK FOR A PR FIRM WITH A TRACK RECORD OF SUCCESS: Before you choose a firm, be sure to look at their current and previous clients — which is often displayed on their homepage — and to check that they have worked with companies in the same industry as yours. The next step is to schedule a strategy call with the firm to get an idea of how qualified they are, what ideas they have for your upcoming campaign and what publications they suggest would be most suitable for your announcement. If it doesn’t offer a structured onboarding process before any payment is made, keep on walking. (Entrepreneur article)
  • THEY SHOULD’VE DONE THEIR HOMEWORK AND BRING CREATIVE IDEAS: In the pitch meetings, if the PR firms have done their homework and prepared properly, they will present a few different PR campaign ideas based on your RFP (request for proposal) requirements. I generally take these ideas with a grain of salt, after all these PR firms are not fully on-boarded and have limited knowledge of your brand. That said, at least one of the ideas should be out-of-the-box and cool enough to get you excited! (Meltwater article)
  • CHECK TO SEE THAT THEY ARE RESPONSIVE: For an additional test, during the pitch and courtship period, send them an email during non-office hours and see how quickly they respond. Too many times I’ve dealt with PR professionals who didn’t respond to emails for hours, sometimes days, which baffles me. (Venturebeat article)
  • THEY MUST HAVE KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE IN YOUR INDUSTRY: Depending on your needs, make sure you find a public relations firm that is knowledgeable about your startup’s market or adjacent ones. Assess its track record and expertise with strategic positioning and communications. A good PR firm will have skills that include positioning, articulating your message, conducting market research and refining your audience—in addition to getting media and industry influencers to communicate your message. Ask the firm to show you what metrics they will use to measure the success of their work for you and to introduce you to the individuals who will work on your account. Make sure you are satisfied with what you learn. (Marsdd article)

3. But wait, why you should NOT hire a PR firm

  • EXPENSIVE : PR agencies charging retainers of $3,000 to $10,000 per month. But here’s the deal: As a former journalist myself, with more than two decades of experience in TV, radio, print and web, I can assure you that pitching your story is not rocket science. Journalists and producers need fresh, interesting and topical content. All you have to do is learn to package your brand’s message in a way that’s mediagenic, then get organized about following up. Because the benefits of doing it yourself extend past the cash savings. (Entrepreneur article)
  • MEDIA COVERAGE DOES NOT TRANSLATE TO SALES: Your PR person is not your Director of Sales. This is the number one reason most agencies get fired: clients are unhappy that the placements didn’t generate  a massive uptick in sales. The role of a publicist is to formulate stories that get the media’s attention and result in a placement. If a publicist is getting you consistent placements, then they are doing what you hired them to do. The problem is when clients start complaining, “I know you got me a three-page spread, but it didn’t translate into new business.” That is the equivalent of saying to your dentist, “I know you filled my cavity, but you didn’t fix the pain in my jaw. The pain in your jaw should be seen by a doctor, not your dentist, and it’s not the dentist’s responsibility. The same goes for sales and PR. (Observer article)
  • YOU CAN DO IT YOURSELF: Michael Seibel (founder of Justin.tv) says he wasted $150,000 (£93,000) on PR firms in the early days of Justin.tv. “People think they need to hire someone to do their PR, but 99 percent of PR in the early stages is stuff you can do yourself. It’s just like business development — there’s the warm-up intro, followup to build relationships, then add something of value.” Make sure you have a story to bring journalists — a significant hire, or something else newsworthy, rather than just expecting a profile piece. (Wired article)
  • PR FIRMS OVER-PROMISE EVERYTIME: PR firms seem to take the inverse approach and promise things they can’t guarantee, like media coverage on national shows or in major daily papers. They also start with grandiose plans but produce a press release and a million excuses. I literally can’t count the number of times clients have asked me to quickly create something their PR firm failed to deliver. They end up paying twice to get the job done. (Roundpegg article)
  • PR FIRMS DON’T HAVE ALIGNED LONG-TERM GOALS: PR firms won’t think long-termA deadline a month away is not on the radar in PR because news media moves at lighting speed and staff is focused on the “right now.” Good luck getting your PR firm to attend to a project three weeks out – they’ll likely get to it with 24 hours to go. And at 2:00 AM. Short term results don’t matter as much as long term results. A PR firm will hand you a report showing the ‘pickup’ from your press release blast. It’s a listing of all the websites that supposedly ran your press release verbatim last week. Doesn’t mean anybody read it. Doesn’t mean that it exerted any influence. Influence is built over time, with a strategic approach. You need your PR agency to leverage relationships with influencers, to connect you with industry analysts who will quote you in their next report, and to coach you into thought leadership. The big stuff like that gets the bigger results. (Roundpegg article / Redcup article)

I hope the reading the above has helped you determine whether hiring a PR firm is right for you at this stage of your business. If you decide that it’s not the right time for you now, there are 40+ other ways to increase customers.

If you’re a PR specialist, I would love to hear from you!

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