1. The best PR firms are really big.
Choosing a big PR firm can be a dangerous choice for a startup for three reasons: 1. Big PR firms are expensive for cost-conscious startups. 2. Big PR firms are focused on their big, name-brand clients, because they look good, and they pay well. 3. Most big PR firms don’t specialize in the nuances of startups. While they may have fancy reports and a fleet of underlings to meet with you regularly, big PR firms don’t usually understand the specific needs of budding entrepreneurship associated with startups. You’re better off looking for PR firms that specialize in, and have results for companies of a similar size and focus to yours.
2. Celebrities and big brands work with this firm so they must be good.
The PR needs of celebrities and established brands have little in common with the PR needs of startups. Endorsements, damage control, product launches within an established brand, and ongoing brand maintenance are their primary focus. Startups usually need PR that introduces them to the world and establishes them as a thought leader in their industry. Popular brand names may sound sexy, but the PR strategies that make them successful have little in common with the PR strategies that make new startups successful.
Also consider that celebrities and big brands spend millions annually on communications, marketing infrastructure, market research, endorsements, and public relations. The work of their PR firm only plays a small part in their success.
3. A PR firm should operate without much input.
PR is not a one-size-fits-all solution to getting your startup noticed. Each startup is unique, and a good PR firm will need to get spend time with you and get to know your brand, your goals, your industry, and more, in order to make you identify what makes you special and help you stand out from the competition. Expect to meet with them regularly and don’t be surprised when they ask questions about why your startup exists, what problem you solve, and how you’re different than others.
4. My startup is too secret to talk about with the PR firm.
PR firms need to know what your company does, how it does it, why it exists, and how it’s better than the competition. While you may not need to disclose each of the secret sauce ingredients directly, your PR firm needs to be able to talk with reporters and make a solid case as to why your product is better than the competition. Warning: Reporters can see through vague marketing speak, so get specific. If your startup has a secret product or solution still in development, and not yet ready to be made public, be sure to tell your PR firm when it can be made public.
5. PR should be cheap because I'm a startup.
Public relations is often the first thing people see when they meet your startup. While you can save money on things like office supplies and company lunches, public relations, can be an embarrassing place to scrimp because it’s so very “public.” It’s like wearing a ragged dirty shirt to a pitch demo. Sure you can do it, but it’s not a good idea. Think of a PR firm as you would a dentist, a lawyer, an accountant. You want good results, which come from experience, intelligence, and the ability to get the job done right. Price is a very small part of what is truly important when hiring a PR firm. According to one article: “Retainer fees for starups tend to range between $5,000 and $10,000.”
6. I should only pay for placements.
Many startups hesitate to pay for public relations work, as it is not a guarantee of media placements. As a result, some startups consider a pay-to-play option. Pay-to-play means a firm only gets paid for the media placements they get a client. Most publications frown on the practice. Some publications will even blacklist PR people who get paid per story, so don’t ask your PR firm to do it. If you need eyeballs, consider straight-up advertising or paid placements. The downside; the audience will know you paid to get the story and control the message, so it won’t feel as genuine as real PR.
7. The intern can do it.
Don’t ask a fish to climb a ladder and don’t ask an intern to pitch your startup. Interns can be great for getting coffee and some even have the capacity to contribute to well-envisioned, well-guided, well-monitored campaigns. You may find an intern that is so good they eventually become a valued employee. But would you really trust an intern to be your company’s sole ambassador, pitching your startup to Fortune, or TechCrunch, or Ellen? Keep in mind, most reporters get hundreds of pitches a day, the odds are slim that your intern knows who to approach a reporter and what to say to make put your company in the best light possible.
Jennifer L. Jacobson is a communications strategist who helps brands advance in growing industries. Her clients have been on The View, The Today Show, in TIME Magazines’s best site of the year, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Popular Science, Scientific American, USA Today, and thousands more.
Jacobson Communication is a Pacific Northwest boutique public relations firm that helps startups, upstarts, and emerging brands get the attention needed to drive positive brand engagement. From sales, to biz dev, to company enrichment, you'll be surprised what better communications can do for your brand.
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