By Scott Rosenblum
As we head into 2024, founders might be reviewing revenue goals, hiring, operational costs, taxes, and marketing spending. Some may also be considering adding Public Relations to that spend to help build brand awareness.
Most founders hear that they need to consider PR, but a majority don’t really understand what that entails. Some experience a lucky break with inbound, organic media coverage and have gotten a taste of how positive publicity can boost a company’s marketing efforts…at least for a short time.
While some founders also understand the value of PR, at least in the short term, they may not understand what a sustained Public Relations campaign can do in the long term. When is the right time to engage a solo practitioner or an agency to get a PR campaign started?
Though every startup is different, there are some general criteria that a founder should consider when deciding whether it is time to engage in dedicated PR efforts.
If a startup is still in its nascent stage, it may be too early to work with a PR firm. As budgets are usually tightest at the beginning, and proof of concept or viability are still being tested… perhaps the number of users or clients is limited and so is the revenue, feedback, and all the data you would need to fine-tune your offering to the market. It’s wise to wait until the company is actually ready for the attention it would get from a consistent campaign.
If the previous scenario rings true, it may also mean that the company’s marketing messaging isn’t quite where it needs to be — it’s essential to have a basic narrative for a company solidified. It doesn’t need to be letter perfect, but it should be crafted enough to explain your company’s value proposition or elevator pitch in an understandable and concise way. Often these are talking points founders use when talking with reporters and can easily appear in an article about the company.
Ultimately one wants the brand awareness that comes with successful publicity to lead to more customer acquisition and revenue. But there’s no point in raising attention for a startup if the company isn’t in an optimal position to leverage that awareness through working with a PR firm.
Late to the Party?
There are times when a founder can be too late to execute Public Relations efforts. This translates into missed opportunities in a company’s lifecycle that could have and should have been successfully publicized.
There have been plenty of times when I’ve met founders who have said, “I really wish we’d met six months ago… We put out funding news and then we launched X or Y, or we announced a large new charter client… But we didn’t get any media attention about any of it.”
This happens more than many realize. While it’s true things move fast in the startup world, and there will always be surprises, successes, and setbacks — a founder/company can still plan for this. By determining what’s on a company’s horizon in the next few months, those milestones can get the PR support they need to push the news into the right outlets, garnering attention from the audiences a company is targeting.
Some of these include:
- Product development milestones (e.g., launching out of beta, major product development)
- New clients or user milestones achieved.
- Funding round closure
- Opening a new office and/or expanding into a new market
- Use cases with proven success and tangible ROI
Some of these milestones are good markers, but consulting with a PR professional in one’s professional network can be useful if a founder is unsure about a milestone’s newsworthiness. They may not do a deep strategy dive (unless it’s a paid consultation), but they can offer insights into what’s important from the media’s perspective.
Marketing Feels Sluggish
If tried-and-true marketing efforts aren’t converting into the sales leads a company needs to scale (even with the right product fit), PR might offer a much-needed boost. Maybe a company has reached the stage where organic word of mouth or testimonials (paid or otherwise) just aren’t enough to tip the scales. These are usually signs that it’s time to consider Public Relations to help build brand awareness.
Does the Grass Seem Greener?
Another sign that it might be time to invest in PR is when direct competitor(s) are getting media mentions in articles. Moreover, they’re not only getting this publicity, but often they’re getting it in outlets where one’s startup could have been featured, or at the very least mentioned in the same trend article.
As frustrating as that may feel, it’s not all bad news. Seeing competitors get media coverage has positive implications, such as:
- Reporters are paying attention to this specific industry and have deemed it newsworthy.
- If there’s so much media coverage for a competitor, it means there’s room for other players in the space to garner similar attention.
- The above takeaways are remediable. (Hint. Hint. 😊)
Are You Ready for It?
Even when I’ve had clients with great narratives and interesting business models, if they weren’t sincerely invested in the process, and committed to investing the time and resources to see it through, it ultimately didn’t pan out in the end.
Companies see desired results when they are engaged in being active and willing partners in the PR process.
A seasoned, capable PR professional can do their job with minimal company input, but there will be times when a founder (or a company’s designated spokesperson) needs to be involved. A founder has to be responsive when the PR firm is asking for items that are on deadline or have questions, they might not know the answer to – especially at the onset when they’re first learning more about a company.
Commitment to the process will lay the foundation for a strong partnership with a PR agency.
Factor in the Cost
Lastly, companies have to be realistic about their marketing budgets and whether they have the capital to work with a PR professional or firm. A successful PR engagement does come with a cost. And while there are some firms with higher price tags for monthly retainers, it is a spectrum. The old adage does ring true: “You get what you pay for.”
Much depends on the scope of work, but an average estimate would be 3K/month minimum for a retainer with an experienced solo practitioner, and likely 4-6K/month for a boutique PR firm.
Engaging a PR on a project basis is a good way to test the waters if needed, as those require a flat fee. A one-time payment is collected for a focused, short engagement. Some, but not all agencies offer this option. Many solo PR practitioners do and on average, projects can cost anywhere between 1-4K, depending on the scope of work.
Questions? Comments? Want to connect? Contact me here.
Scott Rosenblum is the President/Founder of LEVEL PR, a boutique PR agency that works with tech startups. With over 23 years as a public relations professional working with technology clients, Scott is a seasoned PR executive with a wide range of media knowledge and experience. He has garnered media coverage for clients in TechCrunch, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, WIRED, Fast Company, CNBC, and a variety of trade, consumer, and business publications. Scott is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University.
PR Toolkit for Tech Startups is an online course recently launched by Scott Rosenblum.
The course is designed to help growing startup founders learn more about what PR is, the current media landscape, and DIY public relations strategies/tactics. It is also a fit for startups that have a marketing person who wants to learn more about PR but doesn’t have the budget to hire an agency. The course includes downloadable documents designed to help founders craft their messaging, press releases, pitches, and PR strategies.
For Shay CPA readers and clients, Scott is offering 25% OFF for any course option with the coupon code: shay25. (code does not expire)