Public relations · Marketing Strategy

When is the right time/stage to hire a PR firm?

Lucas Jaz

April 8th, 2016

I generally don't believe in PR firms adding value and especially so early on. But a company I'm advising has raised $10M total and they are contemplating it.  Would love to hear from people that HAVE worked with them - what stage were you in and what worked well? 
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Joel Richman Vice President of Account Services

April 8th, 2016

Hi all, 

Inre. the comments suggesting a quick hire (three months or so), that's a waste of time. And money. If you're going to invest in PR, do it right and look at the PR investment as a longer-term investment in the business. That's not suggesting it takes a long time to generate results, it means you need to create a presence, develop relationships with key influencers and then maintain those relationships so they continue to pay dividends down the line. 

PR is a strategic partner in growing and maintaining a business' brand and reputation. PR can't magically promote a product and business and sustain interest without an up-front deep dive into messaging, vision, company direction, culture and voice--especially in the social media reality. News cycles are fast so you have to look at PR in a similar light as advertising: repetition matters. The advantage PR affords over advertising is authority. But it has to be repeated, and consistent. A flimsy approach to all that will result in flimsy results. 

Edward M. Yang

April 8th, 2016

For some companies who have founders that can engage directly with the press, they don't need a PR agency. One great example is Dhawal Shah of Class Central. He's had his articles and company mentioned in Techcrunch, among others, solely through his own efforts. For other companies that are run primarily by tech folks, media relations may be a challenge either from a capabilities standpoint or lack of time. In this case, a PR agency may make sense. Make sure to ask for examples of past success stories, as usually past performance is indicative of future success. There are no guarantees in PR, but there's a lot of power in securing evergreen content in the form of positive press coverage. Other points to be aware of: -Make sure that sufficient time and resources are provided to empower the PR agency to do their job. Quick turnaround is critical when you get a reporter interested. -Be clear upfront on what your expectations are. They should neither be too high ("we want to be on the front page of the New York Times") nor too low. -Keep in mind there are different tactics within PR. Each has their own use for each stage: promotion, source filing, thought leadership, newsjacking, content marketing. -Avoid like the plague PR agencies who think PR is simply churning out press releases every month and slapping it on the wire service. -Don't sign long term contracts. At most a 60 day out clause is sufficient to avoid long term commitments. Disclosure: My agency has been helping tech companies for the past 12 years get known. Our motto is "big agency results at small agency prices". I'd be happy to provide further advice for free.

Judith Hurwitz President & CEO Hurwitz & Associates

April 8th, 2016

Working with a PR company takes preparation and a focus on your goals. Do you want to let the world know that you have raised money? Are you ready to talk about your technology or a partnership? Do you want to focus on the key leaders in the company and get them quoted in publications? All these are reasonable goals but you have to direct a PR firm otherwise it is expensive and might not give you the results you are looking for. I recommend that you begin with building relationships with key influencers. You can set up a few intimate dinners with key people (partners, customers, and editors), you can contribute articles. 
The bottom line is that you have to have clear expectations and you have to be involved in the process.

Diane Bernard Chief Digital Marketing & Growth Officer For Hire, CEO, Virtual CMO for Technology, Healthcare, Pharmaceutical, Consumer

April 8th, 2016

I think PR can come in handy a couple of ways.  One it can help create early conversations with Industry analyst to not miss out in some of their reports. Also, it gives your agency which I highly recommend you have someone that is both PR & Marketing, so they can build the messaging is created directly off the early customers and can be easily translated into sales facing content. 

Also, the PR takes time to get intros done along with whisper virtual tours can help ensure you get great coverage when you are ready to pull the trigger.  Another thing that is great with early PR you can help  unlock some of the early customers and begin putting your stake in the ground for any new market segments your product may be creating. 

Also, there are lots of great conferences you can get a seat on a panel, host early webinars to build thought leadership and not to mention help get the press kits, website content etc all completed. 

My 3 cents worth!  :-) Diane 

Dean Harris Chief Marketing Officer- Fractional CMO-

April 8th, 2016

I have been a CMO for lots of brands with annual budgets ranging very little to $250 Million a year.I can say without reservation that PR was the best investment we made. In fact, It makes great sense to invest in PR before you start spending money on media for branding or acquisition. In every case the money we spent on a PR agency was amplified manyfold. It is a great tactic to make our brand seem bigger, more important and more established. Unless you are someone like ATT or Exxon Mobil, that's a good thing.

Richard Williams President, Connect2 Communications, Inc.

April 12th, 2016

I've been both the marketing or PR lead at start ups and on the agency side and I think it depends on what your company's business and market objectives are at the time. PR agencies, good ones, can help define/refine company messaging, help create an active voice on the issues shaping your market, provide introductions and insights into key influences, and help raise visibility for fundraising, partnerships, and prospects. The key for early stage companies is they have to understand what they want the PR firm to help them accomplish and set KPIs to that end. Also, you need an agency that will invest the time to understand the company, it's value and products/services.

Bill Emburg Technologist, Marketer, Entrepreneur, Business Owner, CEO, Speaker

April 12th, 2016

Kevin and Chuck have both offered some great advice, and I agree.  As a small business owner (smaller than yours) who invested the $5K/mo in a PR program, I can tell you that it can definitely be worth it, but it really depends on what you want to accomplish.

To get value out of a PR program, you must first spend the time to figure out your messaging and your goals.  All the PR in the world is a waste if you don't have a compelling message, or if you don't know what the goals are.

Note that I wrote at the top about investing in a PR program, not a PR firm.  It's the program that matters, not the price tag of the firm that executes the program.  PR doesn't need to cost a fortune, and you definitely can measure your results. 

I would recommend against the purely organic approach suggested by some of the comments above. Good PR is about creating "positive aura," which means that the buzz around you is bigger than your company and its offering.  You don't need a purple cow or something totally unique. You want to get the most out of what you have.  You want leverage. 

Good PR gives you leverage.  You then need to decide what to do with that.

David Rowell CEO & Founder at LifeLinker Inc

April 10th, 2016

Andy Abramson makes good points (as he always does) about the distinction between publicity and positioning.  It is important to understand the difference.

And I agree with Dean Harris and Joel Richman about the great value of good pr.  However, the fact that good pr is great value doesn't mean that bad/unnecessary/ill-timed/off-topic pr is of any value at all.

It is also very important not to simply hand a PR agency a blank check and say 'go give me some positioning' - the pr agency's equivalent of an advertising agency's classic excuse of 'building corporate/brand awareness'.  Both are truly blank checks - they agencies become entirely unaccountable, for 3 - 6 months or more, while they work on this nebulous concept.  I can give you all the excuses you're likely to hear about 'building up a history/footprint' and 'getting into people's Rolodexes' and 'building awareness' and so on - I can do this because, working for agencies in the past, I've used them all, myself.  Proceed with caution!

I'd suggest the best time to engage PR assistance is when you've got a story to tell and when you can benefit from its exposure.  Depending on what you need/want, and what your story may be, depends on when to do this.

For example, it makes no sense to talk about your wonderful new product or service in articles focused on potential customers if you're not ready to then sell to the people who respond to the article.  For example, if you want added credibility prior to engaging in a funding round, it makes no sense to do that well in advance of being ready to seek funding on appropriately positive terms.  Winning last year's award for whatever becomes massively less impressive when this year's award has now been announced.

For startups, especially if short of cash, I'd suggest that longer term positioning is less essential (because your long term is not yet assured) than ensuring that every dollar you spend on pr today brings you back two dollars of direct measurable benefit the next day.

If you can't measure the benefit, then the ugly truth, which the industry generally seeks to obscure and obfuscate, is that there isn't any.  This is not necessarily the fault of your pr agency, because in truth they can't always make chicken soup out of chicken sh--.

Working with them, you need to uncover a good story to tell, with 'good' meaning 'interesting to your audience' and also meaning 'likely to bring you back a direct benefit'.

Case in point.  Several times every week I get press releases for appalling 'me too' junk like iPhone cases, USB cables, portable rechargers, etc.  I wince when I see expensive pr agencies clearly mounting expensive campaigns for products that are almost completely generic.  Sure, they'll end up with half a dozen meaningless placements (you can release almost anything onto one of the wires and get it picked up a dozen or more different places) to proudly show to the client - 'look, we got our release repeated word perfect on these sites, and listed on this aggregator, and mentioned in that other blog' sort of thing.  But will it make anyone rush out and start buying Brand X cables instead of Brand Y cables?  No.  These types of products probably never need pr - they need to focus on the other of the "Four P's" of the marketing mix.

I also get releases from products that will be released 'soon'.  As (among other hats I wear) a member of the media, I always ignore these - my readers don't want to be told about great new things which they can't buy.  They want to be told about things they can buy.  These products likely will benefit from pr, but their timing is wrong.

An exception to the above.  If some external event occurs which you are well placed to comment on or respond to, if something causes your nascent new product/service to become timely and relevant, maybe then you advance your schedule a bit and make some noise.

Craig Rothenberg Founder, CEO, Rothenberg Communications LLC

April 8th, 2016

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If all they're thinking about in a PR agency is media relations assistance, then that's a fairly simple, straightforward remit, and I'd agree with A. Miller's suggestion to consider a short-term retainer. On the other hand, if (in addition to media relations support) they're looking for more strategic communications counsel, then the expertise they're looking for will take some smart "shopping" on their and your part.

I say this as a 35-year communications person coming out of Big Pharm, and one who now consults with companies of all sizes across all industries. If attracting new investors and perhaps even board members is key, if identifying and aligning with critical third-party partners, establishing a foothold with potential customers, etc. is important in the near, mid- or long-term, then that's a larger remit. It takes an agency/consultancy that fundamentally understands the business and business model, its goals and then can design of a communication strategy to help meet each of those objectives.

And then, fundamentally of course, it depends on the industry and where and when the planned timing of launch (of the company and its product brands) is scheduled. Also, if establishing credibility/a reputation is important, that too will weigh in to the if and when equation of selecting an agency.

I'm happy to talk live (offline) if that's at all of interest.
...Apr 08, 2016EditReport

Andy Abramson CEO, Comunicano

April 8th, 2016

We tell clients 3 months is when things start to pop. Sure we make other things happen earlier, but it's like sale. You have to be in the news cycle.