4 Considerations Before You Hire a PR Agency to Launch Your Start-up

By Reshma Fernandes (@reshma)

This is part 1 of a 2 part series on beginning a PR agency search.  Part 1 focuses on factors to consider before you engage an agency and part 2 will address tips on how to succeed when partnering with a PR firm.

Timing is everything, wouldn’t you agree?  Especially when you’re launching your product or service, a culmination of months, maybe years of blood sweat and tears.  On paper, your product/service is ready to go, your roll out plan is in place, and you’re starting to think about PR.  You have one shot, you want your story told and you want it done right.  Determining when to engage a PR team is crucial to the PR agency selection process.  Trust me, neither you nor your agency wants to be spinning wheels on a strategic PR launch plan that they may never execute.

To help you determine if you’re ready for prime time, here’s a little exercise followed by four critical success factors to consider before you embark on an agency search:

Let’s start with a simple exercise: write an elevator pitch for your product/business every week and see how it evolves over a period of 4 weeks. Notice how your pitch is changing, if at all.  Look out for structural or fundamental changes to the definition of your business vs. minor cosmetic changes via adjectives or additional features.  Besides figuring out where you are in the PR process, you’ll also have embarked on honing your message.  Thinking about your elevator pitch is one of the most important elements you’ll work on once you engage an agency and before they start media outreach.  While your agency can help you refine it, it’s a good start to be able to concisely convey your value proposition to your audience.

Next, here are some critical factors to help you determine if you are ready to hire a PR agency:

#1 Shine a Torch on your Company
Are you ready for public scrutiny? Are you ready for tough questions or media attention? Is your website up and running? Is your software buggy? And are you ready to defend your business model?
It is essential to get all your ducks in a row before your agency gets you interview opportunities. You don’t want to have to decline them because you’re not ready. It hurts your credibility and may irreparably damage media relationships.

#2 Clear PR Goals
How do you want your company to be perceived? What are your PR goals?  Do you want to be seen as an innovator?  The first on the block with a brand new product?
Have a clear idea about how you want to position yourself in the marketplace.  You may have a revolutionary product and want to establish leadership months before the launch, in which case you may need a longer term PR strategy.

#3 Is your product ready for primetime?
How realistic and implementable is your product roadmap?  Are there any setbacks you can predict?
If you’re a serial entrepreneur or have the benefit of an experienced team that has launched products before, it’s no surprise that the permutations and combinations of things that can go wrong are endless!  Setbacks may delay your product launch and your product doesn’t have to be perfect.  In fact, launching beta versions of software is commonplace.

What I’m referring to are product features that are constantly evolving.  In a situation where your product evolves week after week in response to competitors in a crowded marketplace, this could be frustrating for both you and your PR team, necessitating endless revisions of messaging, FAQs and pitches.  Besides the obvious “make work,” it’s secondary to losing credibility with media, as once media outreach has begun, backtracking on previously shared launch dates and changes in the core product more than once hurts everyone’s credibility.

#4 Audience
What is the goal of the first wave of PR outreach? Do you need to raise venture or angel funding? Or do you want the end user to use your service or buy your product?
If funding is your goal, PR can begin sooner with outreach to analysts or outlets covering start-ups. But do so only if you’ve covered off on #1, #2 and #3.

This post is a conversation starter and many points of view exist on how timing is everything or even starting with an in-house PR person before you have the budget to begin an agency search.  Mark Suster serves up more food for thought in a thought provoking post on start-ups and PR in his recent post “How to use PR firms at Startups.” Not drinking the Kool-Aid here but once you’re ready to begin an agency search, check this post out on start-ups and PR by Todd Defren, a principal @SHIFT.  It’s from 2008 but still offers valid considerations.

PR pros, what do you think? Do you have any other key factors to add? Start-up entrepreneurs, what can you add to this discussion so others can benefit from your experience?



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