Asking yourself these questions will help you assess if it's the right time to enlist the help of a PR professional or agency.
About a year ago, I was getting coffee with one of my favorite clients and asked him, "What is one question about PR that you wish you had the answer to?"
He immediately replied, "I'd like to be able to know exactly when it's the right time to start going after PR."
A lot of my clients are on startup teams, so this question comes up a lot. Generally, it's best to try your hand at pitching a few outlets in your industry – you never know when an editor is going to take interest. That said, never harass a media contact, especially one you don't have a relationship with already.
If you've tried this route and now find yourself wondering if it's time to enlist the support of an external PR pro or even an agency, here are some guideposts that I recommend.
Questions to answer before pursuing PR
1. Is your mobile app or platform newsworthy on its own?
Here, most founders say yes – but they are wrong (at least 99 percent of the time, anyway). Founders should have a lot of passion for their product, service or mission, but passion is vastly different from what makes something inherently newsworthy. Here are some important follow-ups to this question:
Did you just receive substantial funding? You might have a small story.
Did you just hire someone that everyone knows about? You might have a small story.
Are you tackling something major that's currently being talked about constantly in the media? You might have a small story.
These questions provide exceptions to the rule. If you answered yes to any of these, you might check with a PR pro to assess the feasibility of your PR timing. If you didn't, though, that's OK – save your money for now. Instead, wait for these questions to come up naturally.
2. Are you preparing to launch a tested, non-beta version of your product with most of the features?
Hint: do not pay for PR until this point.
3. Do you have a designated spokesperson at least verbally committed to playing that role?
It's always extremely helpful to have someone at the (public) helm for any inbound interview requests, but also because they provide an inroad for more coverage via contributed articles in their name.
4. Are you willing to carve out time to support PR initiatives?
A great PR professional or agency should be doing 90 percent of the creative legwork for you, but they are still human. They are going to need access to any existing resources you may have, such as brand messaging, customer testimonials and team bios. Most importantly, they need your review and approval for their work: the pitches they want to send out, the articles they draft for you, etc. If your team has zero bandwidth and is unwilling to meet somewhat regularly (or talk on the phone) with your PR person, it's going to be tough to drive results.
Here are some last-minute questions that are important to weigh before you go after PR:
Is your product or service capable of taking on a big influx of new customers, or will it break down? No explanation needed here.
Is your brand somewhat clear and at a baseline level of presentability? Hint: ask people outside of your team.
Are you about to run out of money for product-critical items? If so, spend that money on mission-critical stuff first.
If you find yourself stable as a product or service, operating with a spokesperson of sorts, comfortable investing some time in PR, and with the budget to fund such initiatives, then you might be ready to talk with a professional and get their ideas.
If you do conclude it's the right time for PR, don't work a professional or a firm that won't give you these things:
Access to the media list they've built for you
This includes the contact details for each journalist. Nine times out of 10, agencies give you a list of names without any contact information. But if they are really good at what they do, they shouldn't be worried about losing you just because you have access to journalist emails. PR agencies should provide enough creativity, connections and critical thinking to be worth their price tag.
Login credentials for any contributor profiles they've secured for your spokesperson
It's in their name, after all. They didn't secure any writer profiles for you? Press them on this.
Research they've done on your behalf
The research is all about your industry. Sharing it with you won't prevent them from working with a similar client in the future.
Companies – not just startups – are tired of PR agencies that overcharge and don't deliver. I know this from my experience working for such a firm in the past. I truly believe that companies are well positioned to ask for a little more, and should certainly expect a bit more, as they consider their options for PR.