Guest post by Bob Geller
As a veteran of the tech industry – in the PR agency world for the past 14 years and on the industry/client side before that – I have worked with many startups. I am often asked, “When is the right time for a young company to bring an agency on, or otherwise kick PR into high gear?”
The answer is not an easy one. While it might seem obvious that you need PR to support the launch of a product or service – whether you are opening a restaurant, selling software or are in some other type of business – many can benefit from PR counsel even in the earliest stages, prior to an official launch or opening.
The decision about when and how to best ramp up your public relations efforts depends on many variables – not the least of which is the ability to pay for the counsel and services!
This post will explore this question and offer specific suggestions and advice. It is based on my past experience and conversations with entrepreneurs.
Road to launch and PR
You have labored over the business and spent countless hours planning for this time. Long days, nights and weekends were dedicated to getting the right people on board, honing your products/services, designing a logo and website, etc. You are now ready to go to market. You want to make some noise.
While this stage is when many entrepreneurs first start thinking about PR and marketing, you’re at a disadvantage if you are at the launch time and do not have a plan in place already. When exactly is the right time to start thinking about (and planning for) PR?
Short answer: the earlier the better. In fact, the company’s business plan (assuming there is one) should address PR and marketing right at the very outset, and include details about strategy, tactics and estimated costs.
For mature businesses, marketing is often budgeted as a fixed percentage of sales. However, in many cases a young company doesn’t have any sales or projections to speak of for reference. It is also true that PR support needs – and hence costs – can vary, depending on the type of company and its stage of development.
Profile and education
Even before you are ready to open the doors and start selling, you will want to let the world know about your new company and its reason for existence.
Those who are introducing new types of technologies or concepts may want to spend some time educating their various publics and markets, to develop a need for the company and its products or services, well in advance of launch time.
PR agencies that have experience in your tech field can help – even in the earliest stages – to define the messages and positioning that will support the company’s efforts. The communication platforms, including plans for social media channels, need to be put in place early on.
Launching products and services into the market, and supporting the business afterwards, brings a much more intense pace of PR activities. If you haven’t done so already, this is a good time to hire an agency, the right staff or divert existing resources to assist with the task. Work backwards from the desired launch date, subtracting the time (allowing for several months) that it can take to find and ramp up the right staff or agency. Then you have the right time to start cranking up PR.
Budgeting (and paying for) PR
As stated, PR is one of those critical business support functions that should be planned and budgeted from the outset and not just considered as an afterthought. But paying for it can create a challenge for a young company that is not yet generating revenues. Whether the new venture is self-funded or getting money from angel or venture capital investors, it is important to conserve precious working capital and put it to the best possible use.
Having said that, good PR and the results and benefits this can bring a business, requires hard work over many hours, and this obviously comes at a cost, whether you are hiring staff or an agency.
One should begin with a realistic assessment of the costs for the way it should be done, and balance this against the funds that are available. If you cannot afford the type of effort that is needed, try to seek creative solutions with the agency or staff. This could involve:
- throwing some equity into the mix
- performance incentives or
- starting out on a smaller scale to prove ROI to investors or other stakeholders in order to secure more funding.
What should one expect to pay? For details on fees and other elements of choosing a PR agency, reference an article I wrote for Handshake 2.0: 5 Features to Look for in a Tech PR Firm. Here is an excerpt:
Most agencies work on a monthly retainer or fee, which corresponds to a fixed number of hours or specific deliverables/results. This helps to ensure a consistent on-going effort and dedicated team, and provides a predictable monthly budgetary amount for clients. Some charge by the hour and handle individual projects.
In PR you have a wide range of resources ranging from freelancers and one-two person shops that handle clients for $2-$4K/ a month, to the largest agencies that generally won’t even look at you unless you can spend at least $10K a month. The boutiques and mid-size firms fall somewhere in the middle.
It may seem like hard work, and all the preparation and planning may be a bit intimidating. If you are close to launch time, but have not factored PR into your plan or figured out all the details yet, don’t worry.
There are many great agencies and PR professionals who are eager to help out. While I don’t think lack of planning should put undue pressure on the PR team, you do want to partner with those who are motivated, ready, willing and able to help. Part of your selection criteria should be getting a sense of the energy, enthusiasm and willingness to put in extra effort to help the combined teams succeed.
Good PR can be an important factor in the success of your business. Plan early, often, determine a way to pay for it and you will be on the road to getting the PR results that can help make a difference.
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Based in New York City, Bob Geller is president of Fusion PR and Social Fluency. He is a veteran of tech sales, marketing and PR and has developed best practices for working social media into the PR mix, in parallel with the growing influence of blogs and other new media during the past five years. He has been covered in publications such as (the former) CMO Magazine, PR Week, PR News and Bulldog Reporter. Bob writes and speaks frequently on social media and PR.
He posts on Flack’s Revenge and Social Fluency and has contributed to Cision Navigator, Ragan’s PR Daily, and Handshake 2.0 amongst other publications. You can find Bob on Twitter, LinkedIn or contact him by email.