800 400 3831

PR for start-ups – a guide to working with public relations agencies

By Monica Rossa
Monday, November 05 2018

When a start-up is in launch-mode, building a brand through storytelling is key to creating awareness and offering education. PR for start-ups is an essential piece of the marketing approach and can often drive integrated activities like social media, partnerships, re-targeting, etc.

However, fledgling enterprises can find their first encounters with public relations agencies confusing. We take time to educate our clients about media relations and integrated communications so that we can work together to take their businesses to the next level.

Here is our advice to you on approaching a PR agency to support a start-up business …


Preparing for an agency partner

What are your goals and objectives? Not sure? If you don't know what you're looking for when you come to an agency, just tell them your story and who you want to sell to. The best public relations agencies will be able to pick up on the key company goals and objectives, and work those into a cohesive PR strategy.

Agency partners can be great for education. A good PR agency will coach you through the process and advise what you should consider for next steps in your media relations campaign. Be open to the feedback, but also be respectful of their time.

Realistically consider what you have for budget. Maybe your approach is a plan with many phases, but you get what you pay for. So test-drive an agency on a project basis and then explore a retainer. However, the project will have to run for at least six months for you to get an idea of results as preparatory work can take up the first month or two, depending on your company's responsiveness.


Questions to ask public relations agencies during the romance phase

Do you have any agency conflicts in my category? This will tell you whether an agency has experience in your vertical or if they might be working with a competitor.

What is a realistic budget for an annual program? If anyone responds with anything other than, “It would depend on your objectives and the scope of the work to achieve them,” run.

What do you like about our product/service offering? This is how you check whether a PR agency is recycling ideas or has truly done its research on you and your company.

Who will be my team and team leader? Lots of public relations agencies use a standard deck to get in the door, packing their presentation and pitch team with big hitters, but leaving the service with someone else. You want to know who will realistically be handling your day-to-day account services and their qualifications.  

Who are your other clients and what work are you doing for them? This will show you the breadth and depth of the agency experience and possibly present opportunities for collaboration among their other clients.


Mutual respect

Lots of companies organize a request for proposal (RFP) process and many have no true intent to hire a partner and execute a plan. Don't be one of those companies.

If someone offers you free advice, say thank you.


Spotting snakes

If public relations agencies offer to sell you à la carte tactics – for example, just a press release with no strategic counsel – run. PR for start-ups only works with someone who will approach your growth holistically. Selling tactics, not a full-service, is a cash grab.


Misconceptions about PR agencies

PR is not just throwing parties or earned media. Integrated communications agencies such as Beattie Tartan use a variety of tools to drive functions you might think of in regard to something else. Essentially, public relations is a storytelling-based approach that can utilize digital advertising, social media, partnerships and sponsorships, media relations, influencer relations, web development and more.

In extreme cases, public relations agencies will fire a client. That happens for a whole host of reasons, but disrespecting staff is the number one reason why clients are let go.


Managing expectations

Realistically, media coverage doesn't pop-up until about the four-month mark. Your PR agency might have great relationships and might pull off a few hits ahead of that deadline, but short-lead media works one to three months in advance and long-lead media has a six-month lead time (depending on the publication).

Do not expect to be in the Wall Street Journal, Globe and Mail or Guardian right away. Start with a few interviews to wet your palate, build credibility and iron out kinks in your messaging.


Beattie Tartan is the integrated communications specialist. Call 800 400 3831 to learn how we can use the power of storytelling to boost your brand and grow your business.