Bill Gates famously said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on PR.”
Gates, amongst other successful business leaders knows that a strong Public Relations strategy can bring your brand prestige, profile and authority. It can create endless new opportunities and give you access to networks and connections you didn’t previously have.
However, navigating the world of PR as a startup can be daunting. When and why is PR necessary? Who should I appoint and how much should I expect to spend? These factors are crucial in aligning your PR strategy to your long term business goals and protecting your brand from any negative sentiment.
When considering or launching a PR strategy, my advice is to consider the below questions to ensure you make the right decision, at the right time and at the right price.
Why do I need PR?
With competition stiffer than ever before, it simply isn’t enough to hope that your product will PR itself. Even the most ground-breaking innovations need help establishing their voice, especially when trying to attract investors.
In order for PRs to tell your story in a way that is engaging to the public, they need to understand ‘the why.’ Your agency knows what you do and how you do it, but have you told them why? This crucial insight will inform all your communications and clearly differentiate you from your competition.
The right PR agency will generate awareness of your company by maximising the assets you already have. This could range from data insights, a strong authoritative opinion or advice for others based on personal experiences. These are of huge value to journalists and create strong editorial content. This in turn contributes towards your brand’s reputation, digital footprint and SEO, which is increasingly more important in our ‘Google first’ world.
When is the right time?
As a general rule of thumb, beginning PR activity a month before you’re set to launch fundraising efforts is always a wise move. It’s important to lay the foundations with journalists and a good PR agency will deploy a range of tactics to sustain your presence in the media, even before you’ve launched.
You may not be on the front page of the Financial Times tomorrow and it’s unlikely you’ll find journalists ready to sing your praises in the immediate future, but you’d be surprised how deep an impression you can leave when you start early.
Who do I choose?
When it comes to hiring a PR agency, make sure you hire specialists in your field. In your search, you may come across numerous reputable and award winning agencies with first class clients or boutique agencies that tend to operate in more specialist areas and often more affordable.
No matter the size of the agency, you must be confident that you choose one with proven success in your sector. This will include established relationships with journalists and an expertise in communicating similar messages to yours.
You can only be sure you have picked the right agency if you’ve asked the right questions. PR agencies are accustomed to inquisitive prospective clients, usually asking the same questions so they may be holding a black book full of stock answers that sound impressive but instead hold no substance whatsoever.
Ask who will be working on your account, quiz them on what they know about your company, how they measure results and what the biggest challenges that you will face together – all of these questions will make the pitching process clearer and ensure that you avoid making an uneducated, poor appointment.
You must be realistic about your budget and it is imperative you are transparent at the outset about what you can and cannot afford.
When negotiating fees with a potential agency, be clear of what you are paying, and why you are paying it. What do you want to achieve from the relationship? Educating the media about your product? Increasing SEO? Or attracting investment? These can all be measured by setting KPIs. Telling your agency what success looks like to you will reflect how much time will be spent on achieving the set targets and subsequently, how much it will charge.
Yet, it is important to note that once you have settled on a fee and what that fee entails, you must stick to it. Nothing infuriates agencies more than mission creep, where they are repeatedly being asked to go above and beyond agreed level of activity for the same fee. Instead, re-negotiate and agree to a fair fee increase in return for the extra work and preserve the positive relationship with your agency.
As the company is responsible for how the public perceive you, investing in PR shouldn’t be taken lightly. Establishing these four vital ingredients at the outset will make sure that you have a strong ROI. When you have, you will reap the benefits a good publicity strategy can have on the growth of your startup.
Stuart Skinner, Divisional Managing Director, Enterprise, at PHA Media