Editor’s note: The value of public relations for startups is a topic that is often debated. For instance, billionaire Mark Cuban famously said that PR firms don’t add enough value to a new business—a point that others have opposed. Here, one PR pro shares her take on the PR truths for startups:
You need it. Otherwise it’s going to take a heck of a long time to build awareness of your product or brand through just word of mouth spread by you.
PR shouldn’t drain your bank account. Sure, you’ve got an office space now and are feeling official, but that’s no reason to lose your head. Big agencies do bring a lot to the table but their admin time and team turnover can waste your precious start up dollars. Determine how much you think you should spend monthly—yes, you should do a retainer—and how to best put that money to use. Small agencies and freelancers can have just as strong relationships as the big guys depending on your needs.
Know where your money is going. By the time most startups get PR, they are ready to hand the reins over to someone else so that they don’t have to think about it anymore. I hate to be the one to tell you that now is the time you get even more involved. Collaborate, set goals, and finalize your plan. Look at where your money is going. Ask how much work is administrative and determine how much of that you really need.
Determine your measurement goals. I have a love/hate relationship with measurement. I hate it because it is hard to determine a realistic way to measure whether PR is working for you. We all know that increased organic traffic, more Facebook “likes,” and tons of positive stories demonstrate success, but what about those companies where this doesn’t happen so quickly. Work with your PR reps to determine what you would consider success on a short-term and long-term basis. Ask them if this is realistic. Don’t play the game where you say one thing and they just say OK. Have a PR team that is as good at coaching and mentoring as they are at executing and delivering.
PR pros aren’t magicians. We can’t make stories magically appear the night after hiring us and we can’t “make” a reporter write about your company. We can help you finesse or even find your story and tell it the right way to the right people.
Results take time. Unless your father is Bill Gates or you’ve partnered with Mark Zuckerberg on a new venture, reporters most likely won’t be champing at the bit when your story is pitched. There are some nuggets of info that make a reporter’s ears perk up, but it takes time for most stories and opportunities to reach fruition.
There are no promises in PR. If an agency or PR professional promises you anything, be skeptical. After a decade in the business, I can promise you this: There is very little control in PR. The best thing you can do is have someone who you respect and trust, and who is straight with you and upfront as to what work has been done, what progress has been made, and why goals have or haven’t been met. You can have a great captain steering your ship, but it is still going to be a huge struggle when a big storm comes your way.
There are many roads to success. As with any endeavor there are many dead ends, but always other routes to try. Just because one strategy didn’t work, don’t freak out and fire your PR representation. Once you bring them on, treat them like they are part of the team, not a temporary hire. They will be much more committed to your business if you are open with them about your business successes and failures. Take some time to evaluate why this particular strategy didn’t work and determine your next strategic move.
Refer, refer, refer. So you aren’t the biggest client on their roster? Get some extra love by referring their PR work to other start-ups or businesses (if you are pleased with their performance.) PR pros love loyalty and praise (it’s not handed out lightly), so it can get you some major brownie points and possibly some extra attention.
Retainers are flexible. I mention above that I do recommend a retainer. I do so because you always want a well-connected and experienced PR pro looking out for your brand. I didn’t mention that you don’t have to have the same cash retainer for every month. You can increase it during launch/release months and lower it during months that are going to be a little quieter. I don’t recommend just doing something monthly just to do it. You need a good reason to be reaching out to journalists, hosting events, etc. I do recommend having a touch point for media and spending your money and their time wisely.
Give credit where credit is due. If your PR rep or agency is doing an awesome job, let them know. The PR industry is brutal (though launching a company isn’t easier) but a little praise goes a long way and can do wonders for your team loyalty.
Any advice for startups you’d like to add?
Jennifer is co-founder and CEO of FlackList, where media can easily search and connect with brands, PR reps and expert sources within a social network setting as well as access the latest news.