10 Tips for Finding the Perfect PR Agency for Your Startup

February 10, 2014

10:00 am

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

My inbox sees more pitches than Barry Bonds in his prime.  This comes with the territory of being a journalist.  The vast majority are courtesy of those working in PR.  The efficacy of these pitches ranges anywhere from “thank you for sharing, I will get this out ASAP” to “you misspelled my name, gave me 5 paragraphs of inconsistently formatted content, and I still have no idea what you’re pitching”.  Unfortunately for both parties, the bulk fall in the latter.

Don’t let your startup fall victim to bad PR.  

In an effort to prevent sub-optimal representation for your startup, we reached out to our friends at YEC to share a few of their secrets for vetting the perfect agency.  Their wisdom is below.

10 Tips for Finding the Perfect PR Agency for Your Startup

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1. Make It a Team Effort

PR agencies are only as good as you help them to be. They have to be embedded in your company, armed with information and authority to know what news is coming out and then have time to do something about it or insert your brand into a larger national story. They should be considered a partner, not a consultant, so they have the ability to jump on a story (or create one) in real time. This deep involvement doesn’t happen overnight and takes effort from you and the agency.

– Erik Severinghaus, Founder & CEO, Simple Relevance

2. Ensure the Agency Is Fit for Startup World

A good thing to remember when vetting a PR agency is that they need to have a different mindset to be effective when operating in the startup space. The needs of a scrappy and growing business are much different than those of a large, well-established company. They should be familiar with the hustle and unique approach needed to capture valuable media traction in a way that is parallel to your brand.

– Matt Ehrlichman, CEO at Porch

3. Look for Strong Relationships With Quality Journalists

As a former business journalist, I regularly received pitches from top PR agencies. Many of them had one major error in common: they lacked a personalized approach. So, one important thing to remember when vetting PR agencies is not only ask to see previous results and establish metrics that identify when an effort was successful, but also inquire about their methods. Are they spamming every business journalist from a list they’ve created? Or, have they curated strong relationships with quality publications and journalists? Go for the latter.

– Antonio Neves, Founder at THINQACTION

4. Don’t Buy the Spin

PR agencies live in a world of spin, so be wary that you’re not falling prey to some sexy spin when you’re interviewing them. Get references, see examples of success stories and make sure they understand your business.

– Darrah Brustein, Founder at Finance Whiz Kids | Equitable Payments

5. Ask to See Their Past Performances

As a PR professional, we’ve had a lot of clients who had bad past experiences because they didn’t spend the time to ask for example campaign results or seek evidence that the firm had worked in a similar scenario before. Don’t ask a firm that specializes in working with Fortune 500 companies to work with your startup. Don’t ask a firm that specializes in the energy industry to do your book launch. You want to have a firm that is either a generalist and has wide experiences and successes or a firm that knows your type of company and space well. Additionally, ask for ideas on how they would approach working with you and see how innovative it sounds. With PR, you must have strong angles. If they can’t craft a few, then they are not a good fit.

– Raoul Davis, CEO at Ascendant Group

6. Be Specific

You shouldn’t expect your PR agency to be great at everything. When vetting an agency, it is important to be as specific as possible about your public relations needs. Some specialize in crisis management while others are experts in consumer goods and so on. Identifying your top PR needs and basing your decision on the agency’s experience and reach in those segments will help ensure you see value in the agency you choose.

– Chris Hunter, Co-Founder at Phusion Projects

7. Check Their Work

Make sure to check their references and also ask how they track and inform you on how they’re spending their time. You must be able to hold your PR agency accountable.

– Alex Chamberlain, Founder at EZFingerPrints

8. Beware of Big Firms With Big Clients

At first glance you might be comforted by a firm’s previous work with large companies. However, beware of becoming a small fish in a big pond. Small businesses should work with small PR firms who will actually care about the business. Look for an appropriately scaled agency that has produced successes with other companies that share your budget and circumstances.

– Christopher Kelly, Co-Founder & Principal at Convene

9. Think Outside the Box

PR agencies are a dime a dozen now days, especially with the boom of social media. You are about to spend thousands of dollars with an agency, so they should impress you. Agencies should put their money where their mouth is and give you a little taste of what they have to offer. Remember, if they are not working to earn your business, my experience tells me they are not going to work for you after they have your business.

– Russ Oja, Co- Founder at Seattle Windows and Construction, LLC

10. Expect the Agency to Understand Your Business

Will they spend the time to understand your business culture? This doesn’t always come out directly in PR initiatives, but it is critical for the PR team to know how the business works and how the ideas they are pitching came to fruition.

– Matt Wilkinson, Co-Founder & SVP Products at Crushpath

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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