An early-stage company with limited resources expects a good return on investment from any tech PR firm it uses. This is true of any organization, but for a startup, the stakes are a bit higher than for a long-established business. Young companies may not have much experience outsourcing public relations work, and they may not fully realize when they’ve chosen the wrong team to help lead them to greater glory.
Any new agency of record deserves a 90-day trial period. Good PR pros still make mistakes. No PR firm is perfect, but chances are, there’s an agency perfect for you. If a young tech business enters a partnership with the right like-minded agency, then it will be better equipped to compete in a crowded marketplace.
Instead of moving forward wondering if your agency is providing the best possible service, let’s take a look at some of the warning signs that it’s time for a come-to-Jesus meeting.
The big picture, that is. If, after placing your story in a key outlet, your agency congratulates itself and moves on, they may be wasting valuable opportunities for building momentum. A good PR agency will have a plan to ride the wave with additional tactics like follow-up interviews, panels, and bylines. They should also offer ideas for merchandising high-value earned media placements. Some teams are good practitioners, but if they execute from week to week without looking at mid and long-range goals, they’re shortchanging the client. A unified PR or communications strategy that is revisited once per quarter will support the strongest outcomes.
Your agency should be producing a consistent flow of fresh new ideas. They should call you with new angles for bylines in key outlets. They will skillfully insert you into trending conversations within media and influencers. They should make your brand a fixture in relevant industry conversations with minimal lift on your part. The best PR teams will seek out and build new relationships with influencers, analysts, and media – on your behalf. Rapidly growing businesses usually don’t have the time to come up with all the ideas, or to nag about deadlines. They need a team who waits to be told what to do like they need a third leg. If your agency is just an arms-and-legs team skilled at execution, that’s okay, but it’s not optimal.
A startup or mid-sized tech company should expect specific deliverables and outcomes – and the two aren’t the same thing. Your thought leaders should have at least one published byline each month and meet with industry analysts each quarter if those are key plan elements. In addition to weekly calls, you should receive a monthly results report, with specific industry-relevant KPIs. The PR agency should send over press recaps promptly after a story runs. If the agency is not producing desired results, it should be able to clearly explain and offer solutions to course-correct. They should be accountable and reliable.
If they don’t “get you,” then they won’t be able to inspire the press and the public. They need to speak the language of your brand fluently. The agency should show genuine passion for your story, and know how best to tell it. This is not to say that they shouldn’t push back or question aspects of the brief, the PR plan, or the messaging. In fact, critical thinking is an important benefit of a PR agency relationship. But the ideal agency team shows an understanding of your ethos and mission. If not, they must be able to get up-to-speed very quickly.
Your agency contacts should feel like seasoned members of your own team. If your PR agency of record behaves like a distant vendor who mechanically does the minimum, it’s time to make them permanently distant.
A good technology PR team will respond in short order to any emails or calls. They should be enthusiastic and well prepared for a regular check-in phone call at least once a week. These are communications professionals. They should be aces at proactive communication. You shouldn’t feel like one of many in a long roster of clients. If your agency of record is ghosting you, it’s time to make them disappear.
If your company spots one of these red flags, it need not be fatal. A candid conversation may clear up misconceptions and improve performance. But if your PR firm is dropping the ball on more than one of these issues, a conversation may not be enough. For additional guidelines on what companies should expect from their agencies, see this earlier post.