As with any company looking to add public relations to their corporate strategy, one of the primary goals is to increase their visibility with key influencers – customers, investors, media, bloggers, etc. all while keeping a close eye on the bottom line. Since my agency, Crossroads Public Relations, primarily works with early stage technology companies on limited budgets, I know all too well about the “bottom line”. And as an entrepreneur myself, I understand that every dollar spent needs to be measured and have a positive impact.
When looking for a PR partner, there are several approaches that one can take, including:
- Hiring a freelancer for one off projects
- Hiring an integrated marketing firm to manage all things marketing, including PR
- Hiring a PR agency that is focused on building relationships with key influencers in your specific industries.
Over the last 15+ years I have had experience in working with each of these approaches and I continue to get asked about the best approach to take, especially from entrepreneurs and my answer is that there is a role for each based on the stage of your company as well as your short and long term goals. Based on my experience, here is my advice on choosing the solution that works best for you:
- Freelancer approach: Freelancers are a great resource for several reasons but mostly because they are flexible and cost-effective – two must have qualities for growth stage companies. I often recommend and connect some of the very early stage companies that I meet with to these freelancers. If you can find someone that can do it all – provide the strategy and the execution – then they are a great way to start to get your message out to some of your key influencers. The issue with this approach typically comes to light when they have one of these qualities but not the other OR they simply can no longer support your needs due to bandwidth. Some questions to ask freelancers before bringing them onboard include:
- How many clients do they currently support? This will tell you how much time they have to spend on your business and this may not matter if you are asking them to do a simple project.
- Ask to see some of their writing samples specifying marketing vs. public relations. Writing for marketing is not the same as writing for PR but that’s another blog post.
- How do they manage media, blogger, and analyst relations? How are targets identified?
If the responses are less than desirable or you simply have outgrown your freelancer, its time to consider next steps…integrated or dedicated?
- Integrated marketing approach: Again, integrated firms can be a great resource. They can design your collateral or website, implement an advertising campaign or issue a press release. It’s a one-stop shop that is appealing to a lot of folks. This is a great approach if perhaps your primary goal is marketing and not PR. Most of these agencies started as pure marketing firms and have added PR as a second thought. Their staff tend to not be PR people and yes folks, PR and Marketing are NOT the same although PR technically falls under the marketing umbrella. Again, there are typically strong writers at these agencies so helping to draft a press release, white paper or blog post might come naturally to them but what kind of communication skills and expertise do they have? Some questions to ask integrated marketing firms IF PR is a priority for your company:
- What is the breakdown of your staff, marketing vs. PR?
- Do you have a case study that solely highlights a PR campaign?
- What is the breakdown between marketing and PR clients?
- Dedicated public relations approach: if you are looking for a firm that focuses only on public relations and the industries in which you are selling, then a dedicated agency is the best choice. A dedicated PR firm typically has a team of strategic public relations professionals that have years of experience in launching companies, products and services to key influencers. As the definition of PR has continued to evolve (and was actually just redefined) it is important to work with professionals that understand the nuances of how to properly leverage the communication platforms to tell the story in a way that is acceptable and welcomed. My team consistently educates young entrepreneurs on the importance of consistency in PR. With so much noise in every industry, you are only as good as your last story and/or pitch and a dedicated PR team is focused on strategically delivering the right message to the right audience to keep your company, product or service in play. This is more important for younger companies that don’t have an established brand. So when looking for a PR partner someone that has only worked with larger household names might not be the best fit for you. Some questions you might ask a dedicated PR firm might include:
- What types of industries do you have experience in (B2B, B2C, technology, retail, non-profit, etc.)
- How many clients do you have and in what industries?
- How do I know I will get strategic counsel as well as proper execution?
- Do you have specific examples that showcase ROI and past successes?
At the end of the day, in order to get the biggest bang for your buck you want to choose a partner that:
- Knows your audience
- Is experienced in telling stories like yours to the right influencers
- Is metrics-driven and will work closely with you to achieve those metrics
- Knows social media and how to use it to tell your story
- Can be strategic and execute on that strategy
I am always happy to hear your thoughts so please feel free to share them. Happy PR’ing everyone!