How to Successfully Hire & Work With a PR Agency

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If you’re wondering how to get press coverage or need a PR strategy for your startup, it’s time to enlist the pros. But chances are, your company’s digital needs don’t end there.

Most require a robust digital strategy that includes SEO, content marketing, paid media, press coverage, a social media strategy, and more. 

Rather than diving into all of the above at the same time or hiring one agency with the hopes they can deliver on it all, it’s important to prioritize your objectives. 

Here to help you ask the right questions and teach you how to hire a PR agency is Jay Baer, Founder of Convince & Convert, hall of fame marketing and customer experience keynote speaker, and author of 6 best-selling books, including Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help, not Hype.

Jay has years of experience creating winning marketing strategies, much of which was spent in agencies. 

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In our recent interview, he shared why companies shouldn’t hire a one-stop-shop agency, the important things you need to know and have before hiring, and one major red flag to look out for before you hire a PR agency for your startup.

Knowing if you need to hire a PR agency, a digital marketing consultant, a PPC agency — or all the above

As a company, you need to determine the business objectives you want to achieve and make sure you are seeking out the right partner. Jay was able to provide some great explanations to help you match outcomes with the right type of agency.

So, let’s look at the first question I often see come up when discussing PR for startups. Is it better to hire a digital marketing agency who can do some PR or to hire a PR agency that can do some digital marketing?

If you want an end-to-end solution, a digital agency may be the best bet.

However, if you accept the premise that public relations is about influencing the public and incentivizing behavior change — which trails belief change — an all-in-one approach probably won’t cut it.

Though there are digital marketing consultants and agencies that know digital public relations, there aren’t many digital firms that do it well.

Really, if you want to do both you do need to hire both.

You need to separate these efforts and hire for individual outcomes, instead of thinking about PR and digital marketing as two sides of the same coin.

When you’re looking for earned media, you are looking to hire a PR firm.

When you’re looking for shared media or an owned media strategy, you should be looking to hire a digital marketing consultant or agency.

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You may then be asking: Is it better to hire a PPC firm that does organic, or an organic marketing agency that can do PPC?

Not surprisingly, Jay’s response was much the same here.

You don’t want to lose sight of the fact that PPC is a media buy. And organic content is not that.

“Are you looking to achieve your goals by spending money (PPC) or creating content (organic)? Both can get you there, but you have to choose. The idea that organic and paid are very closely related is also misguided,” said Jay.

How to know if a particular PR agency will be worth the investment

The questions you could ask an agency before hiring them run the gamut from, “Do you specialize only in PR for startups?” and “Can I see past case studies?” to “What’s your average contract length with a company?” and “Will you be creating a custom strategy for my company?”

While you should be asking these questions and more before you hire a PR agency, they don’t all hold the same weight.

I asked Jay to prioritize the top three things startups should look for when hiring a PR agency:

  1. A custom-tailored plan. Better to have a PR agency that’s not niched down by industry but creates customs solutions than one that will serve you the same paint-by-numbers approach as the last client, but knows your industry. 
  2. Sector experience and testimonials from other companies in your industry. Customized solutions and industry experience is ideal.
  3. Experience working with companies at the same stage. In addition to working with a PR agency that understands your industry, it’s also important to find one that specializes in your size of company. 

When it comes to other factors like client retention and contract duration, context is important.

“Short relationships but a focus on start-ups or scale-ups could mean that they are growing the companies so well that their clients are able to quickly move to the next stage. In that situation, it means that the agency with shorter contracts is actually very effective.”

And when it comes to deal-breakers, Jay mentioned a big one.

You never want to be a PR agency’s smallest client. 

Agency relationships often end either because an agency feels like another larger agency could serve them better or the client feels like they are getting the B team.

In both examples, there’s a mismatch between the size of the agency and the budget of the company.

What do I need to know to build a successful PR strategy for startups?

To have a successful go-to-market, go-to-media strategy — and a successful relationship with the PR agency you’re going to hire — it’s important to have a few key elements of your business dialed in before you work with a PR agency.

You should have a deep understanding of:

  • Building an online path to purchase.
  • Optimizing each stage in your marketing funnel.
  • Who your ideal customer is. This is the most difficult part for startups. Their insights are often anecdotal based on gut feelings of the founder, but you need real customer data.
  • All the marketing and PR efforts that have happened already. What worked? What didn’t? Why?
  • Your customers’ opinions of your product or service offering, the thought processes of your prospective customers, and your own customer-facing employees’ insights.

If you are doing PR for startups, you might be keeping your focus on your external efforts, overlooking a part of that last bullet point. 

But Jay pointed out that this is where you set the foundation of your efforts. 

You need to start with that internal marketing and get employee buy in before you can expect influencers and customers to invest.

Conclusion

Just like there is no one-size-fits-all approach to PR for startups, there is no singular answer to, “How do I hire a PR agency?

You need to get clear on your objectives as they relate to owned, earned, and shared/social media. 

You need to adopt a process for vetting and researching an agency before hiring them. And you need to have the data outlined in this post in place to be successful and evaluate PR results.

But Jay also pointed out that companies need to have some understanding of how to execute basic PR and marketing tactics before ever enlisting the help of an agency. 

Without this understanding, you are doing yourself a disservice. 

You will always need to rely on a PR agency for your needs.

This is the ideology behind much of what Jay’s team does. They don’t do contracts. They don’t do retainers. And they see themselves as counselors, creating a PR strategy that startups and B2B brands can then take and execute on themselves.

“At Convince & Convert, we write a lot of recipes but we don’t cook a lot of meals. What I mean is, we create strategic plans and operations plans. We tell startups exactly what to do, but we just don’t do it for them. A lot of strategy firms don’t do that.”

Me and Jay Baer speaking on a panel at the Worldcom PR conference in Memphis, Tennessee.

I’ll leave you with that. But, if you’re wondering how to hire a PR agency or do PR for startups, make sure you give this whole episode a listen, subscribe to the podcast, and download my guide on how to get press coverage for your startup.

And don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions. 

As a digital marketing consultant, I have an extensive background in the world of PR — specifically in PR for startups and B2B brands. 

I take a sequential approach to B2B marketing, looking individually at your owned, shared, earned, and paid media opportunities to create a plan that is aligned with the business outcomes that matter most to you.

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