To PR or not to PR? That is the question facing many B2B start-ups.
From the outside looking in, PR is a sexy proposition because it can be a powerful tool to attract the spotlight.
The other reality is that hiring a PR agency is expensive and there are no guarantees the investment will deliver media or blog coverage.
In my experience, many B2B start-ups jump the gun on PR because they get too excited about the possibility of media coverage. Or, they see coverage as the salvation for many of their challenges such as having no profile or low a profile or a lack of leads and sales.
It’s also true that many start-ups simply don’t have anything newsworthy to announce, promote or talk about. Their businesses may be growing but there is nothing particularly interesting about how they are performing or the sector in which they play.
In these situations, the best advice is three-fold:
- Don’t spend money on hiring a PR agency because it will not be a good investment
- Focus on growing the business because that will help to ensure the company’s viability and success.
- Build a solid foundation to attract media coverage down the road. This means building a target list of reporters and bloggers who matter and nurturing all-important relationships that could be leveraged.
This is a pragmatic approach that may not be sexy but it involves important blocking and tackling that many start-ups are unwilling to take on.
So when is the right time for a B2B start-up to work with a PR agency?
In many respects, it depends on whether the start-up has good stories to tell. It could be things such as attracting large customers or reaching a significant benchmark (e.g. 100,000 customers). It could be a major partnership, fundraising news, the hiring of a high-profile executive, or being part of an interesting trend.
At some point, there will come a time when these stories have to be crafted and amplified.
This is when a PR agency can be a valuable resource. One of the biggest benefits of working with a PR agency is their relationships with reporters and bloggers. In many cases, the difference between attracting coverage and having an email is deleted by a reporter or blogger is having a personal connection.
Good PR people have strong relationships with the people that matter to their clients. Their pitches are opened and considered, and they can have conversations with reporters and bloggers to shape stories or discover editorial opportunities.
For start-ups getting into the PR world, one of the best approaches is dating rather than getting married. Rather than enter into a long-term retainer relationships, start-ups should begin with one or two-month projects. This lets a start-up get a handle on how PR works and whether the chosen agency is effective.
For start-ups with more traction and bigger budgets, an ongoing relationship with a PR agency can be one part of a long-term marketing commitment. Having a PR partner allows start-ups to have extensive ground coverage to take advantage of campaigns and opportunities that arise.
The bottom line is that there is no “formula” for determining the right time to use a PR agency. It often comes down to realizing there is news that should be told to a wider audience, or the business has enough momentum that PR can deliver a healthy return on investment.
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