Whether it's your first time dealing with PR agencies, or you feel like you've seen enough to last a lifetime, finding the right one is tough. PR professionals are adept at selling themselves to you because, well, that's what they do.
They sell their companies constantly, cultivating images of professionalism that make it hard to discern which agencies have the experience you need and which are just hungry for a new retainer.
Given this confusion, it's only natural that few startups will get it right on the first try. In fact, I recently spoke with a venture capitalist who said that, from what he'd seen, most entrepreneurs fire at least two agencies before finding the right fit.
Find a partner, not a vendor.
In order for a firm to tell the true story of your startup, it must understand what makes your business tick. A common frustration many startups feel is that a PR firm doesn't actually understand what their businesses do. Sure, the firm might know how your product functions, but does it understand the problem you want to solve? Does it fit with your company's personality?
A PR firm that fails to understand its client is less a marketer and more a distributor. Public relations, however, should be about strategy and creative partnership; a firm that fails to provide this service is just taking money to do the level of marketing that most startups could do themselves.
Will the right PR agency please stand up?
Unless you have extensive experience dealing with the PR world, you probably can't tell who genuinely wants to help and who genuinely just wants your money. Asking yourself the following questions upfront will prevent headaches later:
1. 'What are my biggest needs?'
If you went to a car dealership and asked, "What’s the best car?" the salesman would probably give you a look and say, "Well, that depends on what you need." So, what does your company really need right now?
If you have a great internal marketing team, you might just need a PR freelancer to handle special projects. If you've been doing all of the marketing yourself, you probably need to look at a more comprehensive package. Around 70 percent of PR firms are full-service organizations, while the rest specialize in a certain area.
So, perform an internal evaluation, and recognize what you need before jetting out to hire the priciest option you can find.
2. 'What is my financial situation?'
Speaking of the priciest option, you probably don't need that one. Freelancers can cost less than $2,000 a month, while high-level firms providing full service can cost $100,000 per week. The differences between the two services are enormous, so evaluate what stage your business is in and how deep your pockets are before committing to a long-term PR deal.
3. 'How quickly do I expect results?'
Public relations is a long game. You might think you have the wrong agency after the first month, but you need more than a few weeks to determine whether a firm is improving your business. Give yourself a minimum three months before deciding on the future of your PR partnership.
Think of it as hiring a new employee. The first month is all about on-boarding, training and other logistical matters. You need at least a couple of months of real results before deciding whether you're getting your money's worth.
PR firms can do wonders for your business's image, but you have to be prepared to find the right one. It's okay if the task takes a few tries -- you won't be alone.
The better you understand your current needs and goals, the better your relationship with your PR firm will be. Eliminate the guesswork, and put your new partner in a position to succeed.