How to know when it's time to invest in PR
Is "doing PR" a necessary evil?
CEOs & CFOs look at it as lost opportunity.
E.g. My board tells me we gotta do PR, but we spent $50K on a PR firm and didn't land Bloomberg.
Marketers look at it as lost budget.
E.g. My CEO tells me we gotta do PR to build brand, but I'd rather put precious budget toward lead gen or headcount,
The truth is that "Doing PR" well comes down to a few factors: time, timing and timeliness.
Sounds weird, will explain.
Time = investing energy to make PR successful.
That means having an internal stakeholder as a dedicated strategy conduit and feeder system. Their job is to rally internal stakeholders who can support the program in different ways (leadership and SMEs), consistently source resources and content that work for PR, and make sure the PR partner has the information they need to be successful.
Timing = investing in the right activities at the right time.
PR at a start-up looks waaaaaay different than PR at a scale-up or enterprise company. As a start-up, there are a lot of grassroots things founders can do to make connections, participate in conversations and create thought leadership - without paying a PR agency. Once a scale-up hits a point where they can build and maintain news generation (market momentum, announcements, market insights and unique POV for rapid response and comments), they can (and should) consider investing in a PR relationship.
Timeliness = pursuing PR with a commitment to relevancy.
It's important to remember that your news isn't actually about you. Make sure that your story (whatever it is) drives value for your audience(s). The only way you can achieve that is to tether yourself to your PR program. PR is a team sport, and unfortunately PR firms aren't psychic. Arm them with the data/insights/substance that will make your POV powerful. News cycles don't move at your command, be proactive and take opportunities when they pop up.
Here are some tips that can make PR work for your business, no matter what size it is.
If you're a start-up:
Establish relationships. Connect with journalists and analysts covering your space. Introduce yourself and offer your expertise/insight. Down the road those folks may come knocking when they're working on a story or research report.
Don't forget about press releases. Map out an announcement calendar based on your company's strategic goals over the next 12+ months. If the announcement matters to your audiences, it will matter to the different publications that serve them. Use a newswire distribution service like PRWeb to deploy your PR and post it to your website. Having a steady drumbeat of announcements is good for posterity, shows momentum and acts as a reference for investors doing due diligence. Share press releases directly to media and analyst contacts in your network.
Don't get bound to a long-term retainer. Explore project-based engagements. Project-based engagements are a great way to test out PR and build awareness without heavy investment. If the agencies you're talking to demand an iron-clad, long-term engagement, move on. Lots of smaller agencies offer more flexible engagement models nowadays.
If you're a scale-up:
Fire up the PR engine. If you've got a healthy demand program and are consistently creating content like webinars, podcasts or blogs, you're ready to develop a PR strategy. Your PR strategy should mirror your marketing strategy in terms of the audiences (verticals) you're targeting, key messages, themes and topics that are relevant to those audiences.
Test a PR relationship, but make it boutique. Often times scale-ups decide to go after PR when they've locked in a funding round or similar event, and they see getting a big PR firm as the path to coverage. Boutique firms are often more affordable, scrappier and more nimble than large firms. Signing a big firm does not equal coverage.
Assign a program owner and integrate PR into your strategic planning. PR won't be successful unless your agency has an internal counterpart who can give them the fuel and direction they need to generate meaningful results. The owner doesn't have to be a comms person, but it does have to be an individual that understands that PR is a priority. That means sourcing comments, content and calendars consistently. This individual should also have KPIs tied to the success of the PR program as it reflects in metrics like referrals from PR sources, competitive brand share or gains, or influenced revenue.
PR is necessary, but it's not evil. In fact, it's a pretty powerful (and often overlooked) lever that companies of all sizes can pull to accelerate growth and achieve strategic goals. Like all programs it needs TLC, consistency and commitment to be successful. Try treating it with the same level of consideration you apply to other areas of the business - you may be (pleasantly) surprised by the results. 💫