Can You Handle The Truth? Your Company Isn’t Ready For PR
We believe – deeply – in the power of public relations, but, there’s an elephant in the room: not every company is ready for a PR Agency.
There we said it.
Many people think that marketing and public relations are one and the same (seriously, my favorite party topic). If you’re actually going to pay money for something, though, it’s important to know the difference. PR is not lead generation, customer relations, sales, or advertising. PR should work in tandem with these; it’s one piece of a complete communications puzzle.
At its core, PR builds relationships to manage an organization’s public image and reputation. There are many methods to achieve this end goal, some of which overlap marketing or advertising. Public relations involves a myriad of tools: everything from the good ole press release to nuanced thought leadership campaigns. We cultivate a positive public impression and work hard to create a brand story that audiences can connect to. We want your target audience to say, “Hey, I recognize that name and I trust them!”
Any company can benefit from a public relations push. Media relations is one of the most powerful ways to tell others about your company, product, or service. That said, sustained PR isn’t cheap, and one-off PR isn’t effective. There are a few things to know before adding public relations to your arsenal to ensure you get the ROI you’re looking for.
So, how do you know if your company is ready? Consider the following:
Expectations and Goals
We ask every potential client what they want to achieve by employing a PR agency. When the answer is ‘attract customers and generate revenue’ we know they’re not yet ready for PR. Every company wants that, and there are a lot of ways to get it. PR objectives need to be just a bit more specific, such as: attracting investors, recruiting new employees, or building executives up as thought leaders within their industry. Knowing your exact goals as they relate to public relations will allow the PR team to more accurately define your target audience and formulate stronger key messages.
It’s not uncommon for companies to give us a fantastic media wishlist of The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. when heading into their very first PR program. The thing is, PR takes time. Good PR is the result of building long-term relationships and proving that you are valuable to the media (not just the other way around). Media relations efforts have a cumulative effect. The agency’s existing media relationships will give you a boost, but that just gets you in the door to make a first impression.
Reporters return to companies who can help them build their stories by offering insightful quotes, unique data or exclusive news. If you’ve never done any PR for your business, and you’re starting from ground zero, it’s important to set expectations. Results won’t be immediate: A PR strategy requires at least a six month commitment. If you’re looking for immediate results, consider straight advertising instead.
PR Takes Resources
A media and public outreach program that could run on its own without your input and effort wouldn’t be PR; it would be brand fan fiction. Whether you hire an agency or you start an in-house team, in order to see any kind of ROI on your public relations strategy, the PR team needs more than just a proposal sign-off. Startups often overlook the amount of work and attention it takes to get a public relations program up and running. To be truly successful, the agency needs access to at least one internal person who can review and approve strategy, materials, press releases, award nominations, and more. The longer you work with an agency, the more you can work in sync naturally, but those first few months will be time-intensive. You also need internal resources who are media-trained to take interviews and offer press quotes, often with lightning-fast turnarounds. Your primary spokespeople and your internal PR management resource often can’t be the same person; press frequently specify that they do not want to speak to someone in a marketing or communications position. If you don’t have the internal structure and bandwidth to respond to these requests, it’s too early. PR will feel like more of a burden than an asset.
Be Ready to Tell A Story
The goal of PR is to bring more attention to your company. In order to do that, it’s crucial to have a strong (and unique) story to tell. You need to know who your company is and be ready to show the world. PR can help polish the messaging and the delivery, but the raw materials come from you.
Start ups often make the mistake of adding PR before they’re really ready to sell. Ask yourself: Is your product or service press-ready? We recommend issuing your PR request for proposal six months before you’re ready to launch. This gives the agency time to understand your goals, develop your messaging, build your media contact list, and create a launch plan. Keeping a PR agency on retainer for more than six months without a launch date is not recommended. Launching a product or service that’s not ready is even worse and can damage a brand.
Another sign you’re ready is that you have a newsworthy story. What counts as “newsworthy” varies. A trade outlet might cover a new hire or small funding round, but The New York Times is going to need more than that. Your story should be more than a one-time hit; you need a rolling plan for announcements that will carry you through the year and allow you to continue building awareness. One caveat: a news story is not an advertisement. Sure, the coveted feature story will go over your product in-depth, but the reporter will be most interested in exploring what the news means for their audience.
Some startups may think that it’s up to the PR agency to “make up” news for them. While a good PR firm can help find hidden news nuggets, media is typically looking for news that’s relevant, timely, and interesting to their audience. Earned media is a steep uphill climb for companies that don’t have any real news to share.
Caster, Take the Wheel
The last thing to consider when determining if you’re ready for PR is: Can you let go? As a PR agency, we do our best to craft a perfect story – one that’s thoughtful, accurate, and compelling. We want your brand to shine! But part of PR is putting your best stories into the hands of others. The media might not always give you exactly what you expect or want. If you trust that your PR agency can get you through even the toughest media critiques, the rewards will far outweigh the risks. If your brand is too fragile to withstand a neutral media notice, however, you may have some internal triage to do before any widespread media outreach.
There’s nothing worse than being in the right relationship at the wrong time. Don’t enter into a relationship with a PR agency if you’re not ready to commit. If however, you know what you’re looking for, you’re willing to put in the time, and you’ve got a good story to tell, take the plunge. You’re ready to put yourself out there.