How To Vet And Onboard A PR Company For Your Startup

Often PR is an afterthought in the startup world. By the time a new business realizes they need PR or marketing help, it’s too late.

You have an incredible idea that you’ve built, tested and developed. You know people will be as excited as you are about your business. But how are you planning on making sure they know it exists?

Often PR is an afterthought in the startup world. By the time a new business realizes they need PR or marketing help, it’s too late. The most impactful time for any new business is launch, and in this crucial window, you will need to make as much noise as possible to achieve success.

A company is nothing without customers, so your PR and marketing team should create a plan ahead of time to outline your goals, growth trajectory and create a roadmap for your success.

Onboarding a PR company can be scary. There are horror stories of companies being burned by their agencies. However, it’s unlikely that your last agency was simply bad. More likely, things didn’t work because you weren’t a good fit and they didn’t understand your unique messaging.

I’ve been on both sides of this coin. When starting my own agency, I made sure to never take on clients for whom we did not think we would be able to gain big results, or whose long and short-term goals we didn’t completely understand. Most clients who are unhappy will switch agencies immediately after their launch which can cripple their level of press and brand awareness.

When choosing an agency, be sure to properly vet them on the following points. Doing so will ensure that you have a great long-term relationship with your rep.


Ensure PR message alignment

Your PR and marketing team should become an extension of you, your company and your core values. It’s incredibly important to vet your PR firms’ philosophy and mission to make sure your goals align.

In the startup world you’re already spread thin, so the PR agency you hire will take a lot off your plate. Trust them to communicate your brand like you would. They are your company’s “boots-on-the-ground”, who dictate your brand story and message to the world through media, speaking opportunities and events.


Collaboratively develop and measure PR goals

Often, PR people will have an idea of client “wins” that might not be in line with client expectations. I’m not talking about securing a feature in The New York Times, but an article for those smaller outlets that speak directly to your audience.

Who is your target demographic? How do you see your PR efforts translating into the best possible representation of your brand and mission? PR agents know what outlets to pitch for certain stories in order to accomplish specific goals. Yet sometimes you may have a different set of goals in mind. This is why it’s incredibly important to discuss PR goals ahead of time.

Also, not all press will guarantee you a direct sell, a download or visitors to your site. Press works in two ways. The first is through direct response such as sales, click-throughs and follows. The other is that certain outlets provide clout and visibility even if you don’t see immediate results.The bottom line is that consistent press mentions and repetition in both big and small outlets is what gets you long-term notoriety.


Expect your publicist to be accessible

I truly believe — and most PR people will hate me for saying this — that your PR team should be accessible at all times. If you are running a startup, you are likely working around the clock to meet deadlines, organize your team, deal with investors and develop a comprehensive business plan.

You need to be able to pick up the phone the moment inspiration or an idea strikes. To be clear, this does not mean waking up your publicist at 2 a.m. for something silly, but if it’s important and you don’t want to forget — email, text or call. Always. We want to know your direction; we cannot read your mind.


Get to know your daily point of contact

Meeting with the head of your potential PR firm before signing is always great, and this almost always happens. You know they are smart, can sell it, know what they are doing and you trust them. But more than likely, depending on the size of the firm, key leadership will not be working on your account day-to-day.

It’s very important to ask who your everyday team an point of contact will be, where they will be based and inquire about their respective backgrounds. Your account lead will be your go-to person in times of crisis, celebrations and questions, so its good to talk, vet, listen and meet with them to talk about all of the above.

Ultimately, think of your team as new hires for your company. Would you hire all of these people to work side by side with your team in-house? If the answer is yes, then you’ll know you’ve chosen correctly.


This article has been edited and condensed.

Nina Ojeda is the founder of The Avenue West, a go-to-market and market expansion agency that works at the intersection of design, technology, social impact and lifestyle. With a strong focus on social enterprise and how lifestyle and technology merge, The Avenue West works with clients to help carve a niche into their individual fields growing their voice and impact. Connect with @NinaOjeda on Twitter.


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