You are at a stage with your organization where you have worked hard to find product market fit and are gaining traction by landing new customers who are finding value in your offering. There is some strong momentum with the formation of your executive team, the product showing early promise, and customer adoption growing steadily. Now you are thinking about what is next since you’re anxious to tell the company story broadly. Hiring a public relations agency is likely the next step and you are wondering what an agency could mean for your company. This blog explores the benefits of hiring an agency and discusses the timing of bringing them on board.
There is no exact moment when all companies can say, yes we are ready for a PR agency. Blanket statements such as, once we hit $15 million in revenue we’re ready or we are about to announce our seed funding and now is the time. A better way to tell if agency support is needed for your business is based on the formation of your story and the people who can tell it.
Here are the most important elements of the story that you should be close to nailing as you think about hiring a PR agency – company positioning, value proposition, branding, product differentiators, and having a few early customer wins. All of these pieces do not need to be perfectly polished, but you need to be able to answer what you do, why it is unique, how it is better, and what the benefits are to the customer. These components should come together in a messaging document and/or a company presentation which are clear, concise, and can be understood by non-technical people. If you hire a PR agency before knowing your company story, you are likely wasting your time and the agency.
Once your company narrative is documented and well-understood among the executives,
you need to ask yourself why you want a PR agency. Is it for a specific one-time announcement, product news, or an event, or are you looking for a sustained relationship that will build over weeks and months? If the answer is we need short-term help to achieve a single goal, I would suggest you find the right PR contractor to help you achieve this goal. But be careful of promises of guaranteed results based on a relationship that is only going to last a month or two. I’m not saying that it will take years to deliver media results, but building platforms, crafting pitches, and getting interest from the right reporter takes a while. This is not a few-day exercise, but as you build relationships with reporters you might need to brief them multiple times over a few-month period to get them interested.
Now that you know your story, you have the right executives to tell the story, and you know the goals you want to achieve by hiring an agency, here is what you can expect from a successful PR agency.
At the heart of the client and PR agency relationship is storytelling. The company’s founding story, offerings, the executive team, excitement about where you are taking the company, and early customer success are all critical. The agency plays a key role in the brand you are building and your reputation. Knowing the topics you want to own and how these play into the current news cycle will be critical. Do you have a great story about your AI product? Are you transforming the way the world manages data? Are you creating the next great app? Then you need to be in the media cycles discussing your offering and how is unique and differentiated. For technology companies specifically, the founders, origin story, and background on funding are usually some of the most enticing to the media. Focus early efforts on why the company was founded along with how your product is impacting customers, organizations, and society.
Deep Media Relationships
The media relationships that PR agencies can bring are one of the key aspects of what differentiates them and it is a huge value they can bring to your partnership. When picking a PR agency, ask for journalist references. Reporters will be able to give you a sense of what it is like to work with this agency. You will want to hear from journalists if this specific agency is responsive, do they bring creative ideas to reporters, and if have they delivered on their promises in the past. Frankly, do journalists like working with them? Different agencies have different reputations. You can tell when an agency is really strong when journalists are coming to them to seek ideas, ask for comments, and engage in dialog outside of just the article they are working on. Make sure your agency is seen as a respected resource that journalists rely on.
Determining Where to Tell Your Story
While many organizations would love an article in the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, or to be trending on HackerNews, working with your agency to determine the best reporters and outlets is key. It is important to think beyond traditional media. Your agency can help you answer the question, where are interesting discussions going on about topics you care about and have a unique point of view? Are those happening on social channels, Medium, or other spots where your voice could add to the discussion? Agencies can be great resources for actively listening for signals and prompting you and your team to respond to conversations that matter. Taking part in authentic community dialog can be as critical as media coverage.
If the goal is to reach customers and prospects, you need to go to the watering holes they are hanging out in. And while those places could include the NYTimes and VentureBeat, likely the audience is in more narrow channels focusing on specific topics that are relevant to them. Today, the audience cares more about finding the information they need quickly and from an authentic and trusted source, rather than only relying on big media to distribute news.
Content is king as we know. Standing out in the market takes differentiated points of view, having your content show up in the right place at the right time, and for the right communities to engage with, such as liking, sharing, and commenting on the content. Building great content takes time. PR agencies today add unique value by having exceptional writers, often former journalists, on staff. These writers have a nose for news and that is helpful as you craft and tell your story. Helping to understand your authentic voice and thinking about the best place to tell your story, via written content, placed articles, media interviews, or podcasts helps determine the full media strategy for the coming quarter or year.
Assistance with Crisis Comms
Avoiding crises is generally “Plan A” but challenging media situations arise even in smaller companies. You don’t need to be the size of Apple, Meta, or Amazon to have negative press coverage. Media crises can frequently start with an observer or stakeholder sharing a perspective on social media which stirs up controversy. One tweet, one LinkedIn post, or one comment on a blog can quickly spiral out of control and get picked up by major media outlets and paint your organization in a negative light. Having an agency that you trust to bring into the inner circle to get guidance is key. You will want to bring in the right internal and external team to have discussions as quickly as possible and develop a plan of action. The first step is to convene a call with the most senior members of the team and talk through your options.
That plan might be to go on the offensive quickly with the media or to share a perspective with employees. No matter what actions you decide to take, you need an experienced team at the ready who has a plan and can update the plan quickly as the situation unfolds. The approach you don’t want to take is to wait and hope the situation blows over. Hope is not a strategy! The key is to be prepared for a crisis and tackle the matter head-on.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself if a PR Agency is Right for You Today
- Do I have my company story articulated and ready to share?
- What are the goals I want to achieve by hiring an agency?
- Is the budget there to have a sustained effort with the agency?
- Are we at a point where we have news that we can share on a regular basis?
- Is the CEO or another C-level executive trained and ready for media?
Hiring a PR agency is a big and exciting step in your organization’s journey. Treating the agency as if they were an internal team member is critical. They need to get to know you and the direction of the company to be effective. Bringing them in as a trusted council, and having spirited discussions about your platform, product story, and company story is fun. When you find the right fit with an agency, you will have a relationship that will be mutually beneficial and can last many years. One of the more gratifying aspects of working teaming with an agency is when you see a positive story about your company in print, there is almost nothing more exciting for employees, customers, and prospects.