How to choose a PR firm that’s right for your startup or scaleup

PR firm

Dominic Pollard, head of content at City Road Communications, explains how to make sure you choose the right PR firm for your business.

For any startup, choosing the right service providers can have a strong bearing on the success or failure of your venture. Whether it’s IT maintenance, HR support, accountancy or PR, selecting an external company to play a key role in your day-to-day business operations is a decision that takes time and consideration.

Of course, depending on the nature of the service you’re outsourcing, the precise qualities required of the supplier will vary. And when it comes to PR – in which you must essentially entrust another company to act as the voice of your business – making sure you get the right fit involves more than just finding a firm with a good reputation. So how should you go about choosing the best PR firm for your startup?

Here are some of the questions I would start by asking …

1. What do you want to get out of it?

PR is not right for every business and, though it pains me to say it, for startups working with tight budgets it’s worth considering if the expense is required at that time. To establish whether or not you need PR, you must understand exactly what it is you’re looking to achieve by going down this route; do you want to boost your business’ profile, raise awareness of your product or service, attract the attention of new investors, or increase the size of your customer base? Do you want to grab column inches in national newspapers or do you want to appear in your sector’s leading trade publications? Is there a specific region you need to target or do you want to get airtime among prominent bloggers, vloggers and social media influencers?

The answers to these questions will immediately rule out a large number of PR firms, helping you to whittle down the shortlist. What’s more, by asking these questions before the hunt for a PR agency begins, you will make sure you’re able to provide a clear brief and set precise goals of what you want to achieve through the partnership.

2. Is there a certain size of agency you want to work with?

For some startups, the thought of working directly with larger companies can be wholly unappetising. For other entrepreneurs, there is an appeal and security associated to working with better known names in a given field.

There is no right answer for which one to go for. Larger companies will typically have additional resource and potentially a bit more initial clout attached to their name when they’re speaking to the press on your behalf. However, this may come at a price – either literally when it comes to costs, or in terms of sacrificing the amount of airtime you are given as a client. Meanwhile, smaller firms may share your startup mentality and can be hungrier to take on and perform well for new clients.

Ultimately, being clear on your own preference when it comes to the size of external service providers is a useful starting point.

3. Do they come recommended?

Word of mouth is a hugely powerful tool for any business – people are naturally far more likely to trust the recommendations of friends and colleagues over an online review or a testimonial on an agency’s website. Startup leaders should speak to their contacts to hear about their PR success stories – or horror stories – and learn what they can from these experiences.

Importantly, when it comes to trusting a recommendation from someone within your network, be sure to assess the relevance of the referral. If your contact’s PR agency was operating in a different sector and working towards different end goals then the crossover might not always be clear cut. Nevertheless, see if those around you are able to suggest any PR firms that they think could be a good fit as this is likely to be a stronger starting point than a hopeful Google search.

4. Do you have a good rapport?

Having found an agency whose expertise is well suited to your goals – whether for a one-off campaign or an ongoing PR effort – there remains the vital issue of rapport. By hiring a PR firm to work with your business, you are in essence extending the size of your startup; you will acquire a number of PR experts, from account manager to communications executive, who will be working with your brand on a daily basis. In turn this means that, as a team, you will almost certainly be speaking with these individuals regularly – therefore, when selecting a PR agency a significant emphasis ought to be placed on the individuals within it that you will be working with.

Failure to “click” or feeling as though you cannot communicate with your new PR team in an open, natural way will make things far more difficult for both sides. You need to trust and, ideally, like the PR agency you choose as it will make for a more cohesive professional relationship. To that end, face-to-face meetings – as many of them as possible – are essential during the selection process to help develop and assess your rapport with a PR firm.

5. Are both sides excited to work together?

When the hard work is done, due diligence is completed and a PR agency has been selected, what you should be left with is a sense of excitement. Or at least a business-like enthusiasm for the work that is about to commence; and that applies to both startup and PR agency.

The PR firm ought to have demonstrated a clear desire to be part of the startup’s journey, understanding its offering and the space it’s operating in. This should be reflected in some stellar ideas being presented and an appetite to be chosen as your PR partners. For the startup, there should be a confidence that its goals can be achieved, an impact can be made within the press, and that they have decided on a team they genuinely want to work with. If that’s the case, the selection process has been a success … but the hard work continues.