10 “Must Haves” From Your PR Agency

Bridge Global Strategies specializes in working with start-ups, in addition to companies headquartered outside the U.S.  At every start-up we’ve worked with, the CEO is involved in the decision-making about hiring a PR firm.  However, many entrepreneurs never had the responsibility for selecting a public relations firm – never even worked with a PR firm – until they started their own companies.  They’re often not sure what qualities they need in a PR agency and don’t know what results are reasonable to expect.  Dear readers, if you are the founder of a start-up, or if you’re working closely with one, this blog post is for you.

Here are 10 expectations you should have from any PR agency you hire:

  • It has ethical owners and managers who expect ethical behavior from all employees.
  • The agency gives you a realistic view of what can be accomplished with PR.
  • It will tell you if your budget is impossibly low and will walk away if you really don’t have enough budget to afford the services.
  • If you do hire the agency, it is able to stay within the agreed-upon budget.
  • The agency has a track record of success for other clients. You should ask for case studies, and for references from clients.
  • It has smart, experienced people who:
    • Are capable of developing strategy,
    • Can counsel you on key issues that affect the image of your company and influence product sales – not just business issues, but also social, political and environmental issues.
    • Won’t be afraid to speak up to you and other top executives if they disagree.
    • Will tell you what they don’t know.
    • Last but not least, write well.

A lot of start-ups aren’t sure what public relations will do for them. We’re often asked, “With budget limitations, why spend money on PR? Why not advertising, direct marketing or sales promotion?”  What PR can accomplish depends on the circumstances as well as the work of the PR agency. Good agencies don’t over-promise what they can accomplish.  You should be suspicious of any agency that promises you coverage in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, the New York Times, on the “Today” show or on top blogs such as The Huffington Post, TechCrunch or Gizmodo.

Sometimes this kind of coverage is possible. It isn’t impossible for a PR agency to help launch a totally unknown start-up company and/or product and catapult it into the limelight in a short period of time, even on a relatively modest budget.  But most of the time for start-ups this kind of prominence isn’t within each, at least not at first, for several reasons.

Don’t ignore public relations at launch time just because the outcomes aren’t certain. A company has only one opportunity to launch itself, which can be a good kick-start to building some long-term reputation and visibility. And that’s what really counts. Unless the company continues to make news after the launch, the media and the public will move on to something else.  However, with hard work and creativity, over time, a PR agency can help build a steady stream of attention that can be sustained.

There are no guarantees in public relations. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t being straightforward. PR agencies work with “third parties” – the public, local communities, the media, online groups, etc.  They excel at using the power of persuasion, but that ‘s the real power PR possesses, and persuasion is different from control.  Advertising and direct marketing provide control. But PR provides credibility: it’s effective for the very reason that the message isn’t controlled, it is merely suggested.  It’s a big boost to the company’s credibility if those independent third parties accept the message and choose to pass it along to others.

Lucy Siegel

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3 Responses to “10 “Must Haves” From Your PR Agency”

  1. Tweets that mention 10 “Must Haves” From Your PR Agency « BridgeBuzz -- Topsy.com Says:

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  2. Kristin Jones Says:

    Thanks Lucy – this is a great list. I agree with all of your points and I would like to add a few thoughts. . .

    When hiring a PR firm, it’s important to partner with a firm that is diligent about setting meaningful, realistic, measureable goals. Intangible, vague goals – like increase awareness, set the agenda, or garner widespread coverage – don’t cut it.

    Companies, especially startups, should require PR firms provide them with regular PR evaluation reports that show how the program is performing. Keep in mind, the type of reports that resonate with the executives (and the company’s board of directors) provide metrics, numbers, charts and ROI. With this in mind, these executives should ask to see sample reports, such as this one: http://bit.ly/faZb1D

    They should also ask if the firm has a formal PR measurement solution or process in place. Startup executives, in particular, need to have a pulse on the effectiveness of the program so they can course correct, if needed. They can’t afford to rely on their gut to determine the success of PR. There’s a huge difference between having a general feeling about the performance of the PR program, and actually having solid facts and figures to determine its success.

    Kristin Jones, CEO

    • Lucy Siegel Says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Kristin. I did mention that it’s important to set realistic goals, and you’re correct that they must be measurable and specific. There’s no shortage of good service providers that offer tools to help with measurement of communications results, and I know that your company is one of them.

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