Do startups need PR firms?
It’s a new year, and we’re deep into the parade of 2017 ‘Predictions. If there’s anything PR agency writers have become experts at, it’s regurgitating industry trends into pieces that look to the future, with innovative insight. Editors are inundated with pitches for op-ed’s that usually reflect surface-level knowledge, and lack any trace of passion— tell tale evidence of a PR Puff Piece. In an age where marketing transparency is now expected, how do we still allow these agencies to rack up six figure tabs for work that reflects the experience of a communications intern? It’s time we take a cold hard look at the ROI for PR.
Do Hefty Retainers Guarantee Exposure?
Hiring a PR agency seems to be an accepted norm for fully funded companies. As a three-time entrepreneur (twice failed), I’ve also been sucked into the notion that a brand name publicist would make or break my success. For first-time entrepreneurs who’ve just closed a multi-million dollar round, the $10K a month retainer seems reasonable. Who cares, it’s a drop in the bucket… right? Not exactly. Has your agency defined specific goals and metrics to gauge the success of your hefty financial commitment? Probably not. More than likely, you’re now well aware of the two-three week on-boarding period, which is the time your agency has deemed necessary for gaining a holistic understanding of your business. On-boarding is an understandable need. You wouldn’t want a partner that blindly pitches your business with very little knowledge or or excitement about the brand. But does this time period deserve such a hefty price tag? It’s better to seek out partners who can learn the in’s and out’s of your brand before your engagement period begins. They’re inherently more committed to the success of your brand. Better yet, take the $120K allocated annually to a PR firm and bring a communications rep in-house. You’ll have full-time, internal PR support that works as a member of the entire team.
Boutique Is Not Always Better
The PR landscape is littered with numerous boutique agencies that offer expertise in hyper-specific markets. Many offer great value to companies of unique shapes and sizes, but plenty more are selling services which they cannot never deliver. Boutique agencies are not necessarily cheaper than their larger counterparts— in fact, many charge more. And the notion that boutique translates to enhanced personalized attention is a complete myth. Smaller firms can frequently get overwhelmed with commitments and max out their journalist network. And when overwhelmed firms have exhausted their contacts, they often pay columnists and contributors for write-up’s, with lukewarm results. Boutique agencies are also prone to unaddressed conflicts of interest, and can often take on multiple projects with suspiciously similar businesses. In this case, the more glamorous of the two will undoubtedly take the cake.
Thought Leadership Stems From Passion, Not Jargon
Thought Leadership has become such an in-demand need for companies that the PR industry had to respond. Most agencies now offer thought leadership strategy as a part of your agreement. Unfortunately, your agency is more than likely handing this task over to a junior PR staffer. Not exactly the most logical move from the client standpoint. Any competent journalist can sniff out a puff piece before they finish the subject line. They’re dry, lack depth, and frequently misuse industry jargon. Now this is not to discredit the value thought leadership can offer. Almost half of all B2B marketers see thought leadership as the most important goal of content marketing. Unfortunately, thought leadership easily gets chalked up as a Publicist’s task. In fact, I have numerous clients who previously sought out PR firms specifically to help boost thought leadership. But at the price point agencies charge, is PR the best route to delegate content creation? There are plenty of freelancers, and niche branding agencies that are not only seasoned in content strategy, but are also passionate about creating brand awareness— at a fraction of the price. But beware, not all freelancers are equally competent. Stick with folks who have strong backgrounds in your industry, and a proven track record of brand success.
For marketers, each new year brings a stronger demand for transparency. Our success is strictly gauged via a complex and thorough chain of metrics, making sure marketing budget isn’t wasted. Yet PR agencies continue to thrive by remaining vague in their strategy. They charge too much and deliver too little. So maybe the best way to kick off the new year is to kick that high dollar retainer to the curb.