Your company’s running and your product’s ready, so now it’s time to let the public know what you’ve got. But your true expertise is related to your product or service—not public relations. Should you hire an in-house PR person? Would you be better served by a consultant? Or do you need a full-service PR firm?
The answer depends on your needs and budget.
A company that sells a wholesale brand, or is selling through partnerships with others, may need PR only to secure the right kind of partnerships, says Cheryl Snapp Conner, founder and managing partner of SnappConner PR, a full-service firm that specializes in technology companies.
On the other hand, a company that’s introducing new technology or requires expertise in a specific market such as electronics or government may need more extensive PR efforts like those a full-service agency can provide.
A full-service agency can have several people working on one account, which a client may need when they’re branching into numerous markets. A full-service agency can coordinate various articles, speaking opportunities, social media work and award nominations, says Kelly Wanlass, an independent public relations consultant with more than 14 years of experience. “An independent contractor only has 40 hours or so a week and often needs to spread those hours over several accounts,” she says.
However, for those clients who don’t need such an intensive effort, “a successful independent consultant can often deliver just as much success as a full-service agency for relatively low hourly fees—like $100 to $120 per hour instead of agency rates, which can range from $180 to $220 an hour, or more than $10,000 for a monthly retainer,” Wanlass says. “If a company only hires an independent consultant, though, they need to better prioritize their PR efforts, limiting outreach to one or two markets because the consultant only has a certain number of hours available.”
On the other hand, a full-time employee dedicated to PR “can have their finger on the pulse of products and service development so they know every inch of the account and find some really great stories or compelling angles to take to their audiences,” says Lisa Davis, a consultant and adjunct faculty at the University of Utah, where she teaches marketing for nonprofits.
The in-house PR expert can also ensure that other employees are aware of what the company is doing. “They’re your most important public relations sales tools,” she says.
No matter which model a company chooses, PR’s job is to build relationships with media, investors and the community so there’s a fertile environment for sales, Davis adds.
PR educates potential markets about a company’s solution in ways that resonate with the customer and are specific to their needs, says Snapp Conner. For example, Liberty Safe in Payson would want a different message for clients seeking to protect their genealogy records from fire than they would for parents looking for a gun safe to protect their children from the weapons.
“PR is going to be more effect than marketing; it’s providing credible first-party validation. An ad can educate effectively, but people still know it’s an ad, and it’s one-seventh as credible as if somebody in authority recommends a product. The highest possible compelling reason to buy something is word of mouth from somebody you trust,” says Snapp Conner.
A Startup’s Guide to PR
“The most important thing any organization needs to do before they do anything else successfully is know who they are, know what value they offer and know why their audiences should engage with them,” says Lisa Davis, a PR consultant whose clients have included The Leonardo, Commerce CRG and the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office. “With limited resources for marketing, you need to know who you’re targeting. It’s OK not to serve everyone.”
Social media is changing the PR world, says Kelly Wanlass, a consultant whose specialties include social media. “Press releases are still important because potential customers searching online for various key words come upon them. Also, startups that are successful in the press are those who position themselves as sources, bringing journalists carefully crafted stories that are well-written and relate to the bigger picture.”
PR is essential for startups because it gives a company visibility and brings in more money, Wanlass says. “When possible, combine PR with advertising, social media, trade shows and analysts’ relationships. Get third-party validation, case studies and success stories. That is so critical. Hearing how a product helped solve another company’s problems helps others make purchasing decisions.”
Public relations efforts never end, Davis says. “This is something that your business needs to be doing every day for the rest of its life to be successful. It’s long-term, consistent and it’s something that builds over time.”