Bringing on a public relations agency can help an organization engage a far larger audience than they’re able to do on their own. But in the competitive world of startups, the go-to-market formula can change, and timing is key. It isn’t as simple as ‘get your brand in the news’ as much as it is about identifying and focusing on key differentiators. So before a startup decides to bring on a PR agency, they should be asking themselves these five questions.
Many startups, especially those in tech, generate early buzz making VC deals that allow for rapid growth, and a funding announcement can be a great starting point. Yet a fat financing round and torrid expansion numbers aren’t enough, and they can even overshadow more important assets. As time goes on, business growth normalizes, and a startup needs a more differentiated story. What is the company’s reason for being? What problem does it solve? Why should anyone care? A bulletproof business model and compelling story will reinforce the company’s legitimacy and offer a foundation for long-term PR planning.
Not enough companies ask this question, and it’s an important one. Of course the goal is to get the company in the news so that it will be more visible and better known, but for what? Does the company want to be recognized as an industry disruptor? Is it aiming to attract business partners? Sales leads? Understanding the mission is essential for the PR agency to properly plan, position and execute a campaign on behalf of the client. We urge our clients to differentiate between deliverables (earned media coverage, bylined articles, speaking opportunities secures) and outcomes (sales growth, perception changes). Both are important but one should lead to the other.
While the startup itself can be interesting, the founder is ideally just as engaging, if not more so. People love a good founder story. It can generate great coverage tied back to the company and allow opportunities for thought leadership. However, if the founder isn’t able to offer more than factual information on the company or doesn’t have the charisma or salesmanship of other startup leaders, they may be at a disadvantage. Of course, many agencies offer media coaching to help executives be more comfortable in media interviews and more compelling in how they tells their story, but it helps when it comes from the heart. If not, the startup may want to look at other top executives as the face of the brand, or it can use a PR agency to work around the in-person meetings with branded content.
This may be obvious, but it’s an important factor to consider. PR agencies usually work as an auxiliary to the company’s internal marketing team, and if it’s still in the early stages, the internal resources may not be there to manage an external team. Without that support the PR agency can have trouble producing results and the PR investment may not be worth the spend.
“Long term” can mean different things to different companies, but a startup that’s expecting instant results in the form of splashy earned media articles or tech trade headlines is likely to be disappointed. The most successful startup PR programs set tangible goals for deliverables and metrics for the PR agency on a quarterly basis. A startup who wants to reap the benefits of a PR firm’s work should ideally be prepared to commit for twelve months.