At a certain point, most small businesses outgrow their first forays into public relations. These early arrangements can include a junior in-house employee or possibly a “shared” situation where the PR function is wedged into marketing or even customer service. (Bad move.) But they usually fall short as a company grows and sees a need for a more coordinated PR effort.
How to know when to bring in the PR professionals
Knowing the signs that lead to such a decision can help ensure a smooth transition from internal to external team. When considering an agency to handle reputation management and media relations for a company, consider these signs as indicators of the need to boost PR efforts.
The company has secured funding that will enable a leap forward.
As long as the team is ready to be candid and discuss dollars and cents, funding announcements are often the perfect time to align with an experienced PR firm. The right firm can calculate a winning strategy that will craft a well-worded announcement and put it out to the most well-positioned tech or business outlet (often for an exclusive) and follow up with a plan that tells different parts of the company story to different media as the news is rolled out. Most importantly, a funding announcement should set the stage for a newsstream that communicates the company’s longer-term strategy and enables stakeholders and others to “connect the dots.”
Hiring is through the roof with dozens of new positions filled.
News like that doesn’t stay quiet for long. So, before media start coming around to discuss company growth and plans, have a team in place to manage the news, and especially, to determine and brief the spokesperson who is answering questions on the company’s behalf. Up and coming businesses should set ground rules early on regarding who speaks to the press and what is being said. We once worked with a tech company that experienced rapid growth and found itself scrambling when media came calling. Before a PR firm was hired, unfortunately, an assistant to the president gave an interview full of inaccuracies which haunted the company for years.
Your innovative new product is close to launch…but competitors are close behind.
When does the team put out a press release? Should there be a launch party before a new product launch? How to deflect attention from a rival expected to announce any day? These are all questions for a qualified PR firm. Internal marketing folks should be researching and vetting PR firms in the early stages of a product or service launch; looking for agencies with similar experience and capabilities; and developing a short list for leadership to meet ahead of important dates in the product life cycle.
Unfounded rumors are surfacing about the company.
Good, bad or otherwise, rumors, according to the author John Irving, “don’t care what’s true.” But we in public relations do. And it’s an important function of the job to get ahead of rumors that have just begun to percolate and correct misinformation. This can include everything from reaching out to reporters to fix errors in a story to arranging an interview with a CEO or other company spokesperson to set the record straight. In our experience representing a CEO under the cloud of a looming harassment suit, facing the inevitable question in a key business media interview proved helpful in getting the story out in an honest and transparent way, minimizing reputation damage.
A round-up story that should have included your new product did not.
Intrepid PR strategists pitch an editor a trend piece on new IoT security or other products and voila, a round-up story with five or six brands appears. It takes that kind of PR know-how to secure coverage that aligns a new product with competitors in a way that elevates an entire category. But nothing feels worse than to be that one product that’s left out of the mix. Early in a company’s evolution when one person has been assigned to PR or no one is actually “minding the store,” these omissions are more likely to happen.
A major outlet is seeking an interview with a key company player.
Without a PR firm in tow, the odds are that a company spokesperson hasn’t been thoroughly prepared to face the media. Media training is one of the key benefits that a professional agency provides. With proper coaching on the myriad issues a reporter may cover, a spokesperson can confidently participate, offer quotes and be an integral part of the positive piece that will result. That coverage will also likely lead to more opportunities for the spokesperson: additional interviews, panels and speaking engagements, for example.
A company crisis is looming.
Ideally, company leadership has had the foresight to engage a PR firm well ahead of any potential events or circumstances that have the potential for negative reputation impact. These include product recalls, data breaches or any issues related to the following:
- Consumer privacy commitment
- Response to legislative initiatives
- Security policies and controls
- Emerging targeting technologies
Often, a PR firm can help avoid damage altogether, if the team is up and running in a timely manner, or even when brought in on the brink of disaster, the seasoned PR strategist can mitigate major damage. Either way, now is a good time for any company to review its PR needs and put a plan into action.