Are you ready for a PR firm?

There’s more to the client/agency relationship that just landing your brand an above-the-fold mention in the press, and it takes preparation that not all companies are ready for.

When I read the Fast Company article titled “The Truth About PR Done Right, and What It Does For Your Startup,” I knew I needed to comment. It raises interesting questions for companies to consider:

How do you truly differentiate your new business in a sea of startups?

How do you make a name for your company?

I would argue you could replace “startups” with businesses in general—large or small.

Once you’ve answered those questions, the next step in a PR strategy is, “Why?” and, more specifically, “Why now?”

Whenever we hold a kickoff meeting with a new client, we ask, “What separates you from your competition?” Put another way, “What are you doing better than your competitors?” The clients that can answer this without batting an eye are my heroes. It means they’ve thought through the whole PR/marketing thing.

Sure, you want to see your company’s name in print, but are you ready for PR?

Maybe you are launching a new product. Most people would naturally think this means you should engage in PR. But are you prepared to speak to the industry and answer questions from editors? Are you ready for an influx of orders? (It’s OK if you’re not. Maybe you are doing a soft launch just to start getting some product out there, which is a strategy in itself.)

A PR firm can make you take a look at yourself and truly determine what makes you different. So you invented the latest widget? Cool. How is yours different? Why should anyone care, other than your mother?

RELATED: Hear how top companies adapted to the digital PR industry changes at this August event.

Don’t get me wrong: I think there are millions of great products and technology companies out there that are doing amazingly awesome things. But without the “so what?” factor, these are just millions of products and companies doing average things.

How can you determine the “so what” factor? Here are five questions to ask to determine if you’re ready to hire a PR firm.

1. What’s your 15-second overview explaining who you are and what you do?

2. What problem do you believe you solve for your audience/customers? How?

3. What are your top business goals for 2013? These can include things like growing sales by X percent, landing a major client, increasing Web traffic by Y percent, etc.

4. What makes you better than the competition? What do you do better than anyone else?

5. Imagine you are four months in the future. Success for you will be if…

If the answer to my question in the headline is “yes,” you know whom to call.

Tory Patrick is an account director with Walker Sands. Find her on Twitter @toryk. This post originally appeared on Walker Sands’ Footprints.

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