Who Is Responsible For Your Public Relations?
And so the story goes like this:
Company hires a PR firm. It pays the firm the minimum amount possible, expecting the most (obviously). Furthermore, the Company is "too busy" to meet with the PR firm, since "operational issues come first." The PR firm can only extend the amount of resources that $5,000 per month can buy. They really don't understand the business, since the company's management has allotted no time to them. A story comes out in Iowa Tech Journal, and not in the Wall Street Journal. The Company's management is outraged. They fire the PR firm and hire another. Here you have it - the lifecycle of the PR relationship.
Before you make the leap and hire a Public Relations firm, know the following:
- Play a role of a venture capitalist and invest in people, not the "name" of the firm.
- Pay if you want results.
- Participate in the PR process.
Invest in People
I advise entrepreneurs to play the role of VCs and really perform some due diligence on your PR representative. I realize that some PR firms (e.g. Ogilvy & Alexander) are brands within themselves, but its not about how much press they get - its about how much press you will get. Make sure that your PR firm and most importantly the person that is working on your account understands the business that you are in. Getting a story about an unrelated topic may hurt you rather than help you.
PR is Not Free
There is not much to say here except for the fact that to get results out of any PR firm, you need to pay. PR is not free, nor should it be. You cannot expect a PR agency to give you their best resources if you are paying them below cost. Be prepared to pay tens of thousands per month for a good PR firm. Some PR firms play the role of venture catalysts and may ask for equity in lieu of payment.
Participation is Key
No matter how much effort your PR firm gives your company, no meaningful results can be accomplished without the participation of the management team. The management team not only has to educate the PR folks on the business and its vision, it has to keep it apprised of the new developments of its strategy, new entrants into the market, and other key elements of its business. Furthermore, the management team must be very flexible to travel and participate on press tours with the PR firm. Press should be treated as one of the most important initiatives of the management team. In many startups, handling the press tour is one of CEO's most important tasks. In fact, many CEOs involve the PR firm in its management meetings.
At the end of the day, if you are not getting the kind of exposure that you expect in the press, you need not blame anyone but yourself. Getting good press coverage is difficult. Today's CEOs have to fly between the East and the West coasts in order to grab 20 to 30 minutes of the reporters' time. Consequently, most reporters do not have time to study the industry at the same speed and accuracy as you. In most cases, they will not fully understand your space or your competitors. When working with your PR firm, you must establish yourself as a company that is different than others and must be able to communicate your vision within the 20 to 30 minute window. It is not easy. But you are an entrepreneur - you should know that nothing is.