Your startup is out of stealth mode. You want publicity. You want noise. You want journalists shouting your name from the rooftops. Reporters sitting around saying nice things about you would also work just fine. Hiring a traditional PR firm to get coverage has advantages, but here are ten reasons not to go the traditional route
1/ Big expense. Traditional PR firms charge a lot. $12,000 per month is not an uncommon fee.
2/ Poor metrics. Few PR firms will guarantee that they can win you coverage, so how can you measure success? You are paying for them to try really hard. Is that good enough? Probably not for your investors, and if you are self-funded, not good enough for you.
3/ You don’t get to run with the big dogs. Sure, you will meet with the big bosses at first, but how will you know they will be the people on your account every day, if you’re using a big firm? You won’t, unless you are talking to them every day. Ask them if they want to start a Slack channel with you, or if you can add them to Asana, and see how they react.
4/ You are the storyteller here. When you win a reporter or blogger’s attention, and they want to write about you, what is the first thing they will want to do? Talk to you. They’ll need a quote from you. If you’ve inserted your traditional PR agency between you, the source, and the journalist writing the story, the result can be impersonal. You need to tell your own story and your PR firm shouldn’t do it for you.
5/ The PR people handle everything. This is not a way to find empowerment for your company. In time, you want your own staff getting out your own message, writing your own blogs, posting to social accounts; you need to be self propelled because at the end of the day, it is your message, not your PR person’s message and you and your people need to know how to deploy it. You will be faster and more attuned to your audience than a big PR firm. Your PR firm should be training you to do this in a matter of months, not doing it for you forever.
6/ A PR firm doesn’t always know your market, or your customers. If your customers are reading the New York Times, terrific. A traditional PR company will probably know how to find them. But the best publicity for startups who need to attract early adopters is often smaller, edgy publications and blogs. That’s where Steve Blank’s ‘Earlyvangelists’ hang out. Big PR firms don’t want much to do with those smaller publications and channels, but they are of great value to you.
7/ Media contacts are always changing. Reporters are constantly switching jobs. Who can keep up? An algorithm, that’s who. Buying a static list, or relying on a PR firm’s list won’t work, but using apps like pressrush.com, which update according to where the writer has published last, will keep you on top. If, however, you are in an industry that is is regional or local it’s likely that a PR agency will have those contacts, because they don’t change all that much, so that’s a good play.
8/ Spraying out a press release blast doesn’t have much power any more. Online search has changed. Buying a press release for a couple hundred bucks buys you a link, and it can buy you some credibility, but it does not buy you much notice. I don’t know any journalists who are waiting by their computer in the morning for the latest batch of press releases to come in. They are doing what everyone else is doing when looking for news: They are talking to sources, checking on Twitter, and enterprising their own searches. Press releases are good, sometimes needed, but limited.
9/ Reacting fast must be a speciality. The larger the PR firm, they slower they can be to react. Things change fast in social. Try calling a big firm ‘after hours’ or on the weekend and see what happens. See if they are tracking and reacting on Twitter and other channels all the time, especially when you are attending events.
10/ Short term results don’t matter as much as long term results. A PR firm will hand you a report showing the ‘pickup’ from your press release blast. It’s a listing of all the websites that supposedly ran your press release verbatim last week. Doesn’t mean anybody read it. Doesn’t mean that it exerted any influence. Influence is built over time, with a strategic approach. You need your PR agency to leverage relationships with influencers, to connect you with industry analysts who will quote you in their next report, and to coach you into thought leadership. The big stuff like that gets the bigger results.