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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Eames

It's a Blast: Startups & PR - When and Why does a PR agency add value to your business?

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

We kicked off our first video podcast with Jay Nichols, from Nichols Communications. A seasoned and experienced Public Relations and Analyst Relations agency supporting technical businesses.

Key questions we ask and the critical answers from Jay.

What's the goal of a PR agency?

Speaking strictly from the perspective of a startup, I think if you look at the kind of prototypical customer journey and the kind of product journey, it's really about creating awareness. That top-of-the-funnel awareness that you fundamentally exist and have something to offer to a specific market segment. And I think it's particularly for seed-funded startups and series A-funded startups in crowded marketplaces that's incredibly difficult to achieve without a PR agency, at least cost effectively. It's really about getting you invited to the dance, right? So, when that call for your proposals that RFP goes out right. That you are going to be included on that list that's applying a specific type of solution to a market segment.

At what stage should you hire a PR agency?

It's interesting because I engage with people at all levels, right? From like public companies to see funded startups and people go through that for their careers. In terms of taking your first steps into the world of using a PR resource, I think probably the best time to start is two to three quarters before you are actually selling something, right? Before you have something that you've gone to market with. Because those two to three quarters are going to enable you to put a nice polish on your messaging and ensure that you're able to get to develop and understand who your influencers are. Who are the key opinion leaders you need to target, what are the kind of media outlets and analysts firms that are going to be relevant to what you're doing and exactly what do you want to see, what do you want to get out of your communications program? All that takes a significant amount of time and that also time is probably going to be included revising your website, putting together marketing collateral, and all that kind of stuff. And that's where kind of PR informs a lot of this. PR is certainly a tool of marketing, but good PR firms and good PR resources, what they primarily do for the startup help them solidify and bulletproof, if you will, the messaging.

How do you engage with a PR Agency?

Well, it all depends in terms of how many resources you have and what route you want to go. There's a lot of different types of PR resources. In my case, I'm kind of a single person, right, who's much more senior, has a great deal of experience, and is able to work hand in hand with more senior people and kind of like a smaller startup where you're kind of directly going there. Other people may require an agency that has a team.

Either a large one or a small one, for example. It often depends in terms of what type of market segment you're going after. I would say, particularly for consumer technology clients, they have a tendency to require larger numbers of more junior people who have to kind of execute tactical stuff as opposed to the kind of a B to B type of situation where it's a little bit easier to kind of work with a single individual will who kind of knows that domain inside and out. But generally, the engagement can take usually one of three different ways. There's usually either a project basis, which is usually a good way to engage with a PR resource to get a sense of whether or not the chemistry is there, because chemistry is very important, how you're going to be able to kind of work with each other. And that's kind of like a finite term after which you kind of decide, well, maybe you part ways or you go forward another way. And one that's very much more common is usually a retainer of some sort on a monthly basis and that can be all right. So, depending on how they're kind of billing you, sometimes they bill by the hour.

Other people, like myself, just bill on a monthly basis so we just agree on what success looks like there. But generally getting that monthly retainer, which is a certain amount you bill every month, usually with some type of wind-down clause at the end of it. Others and especially larger organizations tend to prefer large annual contracts or contracts that expand more than a single month in which case you would sign on for someone for like say the year. There may be some exit clauses there, for example. But I think for the most part, particularly for startups, the types of resources you're going to engage, a lot of them are going to be very willing to go on a month-to-month type of basis, usually with some type of wind down from anywhere from 90 days to 60 days to 30 days.

Why can't I just post the press release on the wires myself?

Well, because that's literally useless. You're not going to get anything there. Press releases are kind of a conundrum these days, right? They play the role of a statement of record. It's interesting that putting a release out on the wire in and of itself does nothing and has done nothing for years. It's all about the engagement that you use. Whom are you targeting? Whom are you going you need to reach out proactively to the media and the press to sell them on this and do some type of interview or briefing to tell them about the news itself before they're going to write anything. At the same time, I've met many journalists who unless they see a final press release, they're not going to take an interview either, because that's kind of proof to them that this event is occurring and this is what's going on. Right. So, again, it's interesting. These are necessary elements in terms of putting a release out on the wire, but without having the ability to engage those influencers directly, you're really not going to get anything done, certainly not from an awareness level.

What should I look for in a PR agency?

Let's see. Chemistry and personality fit is incredibly important. The fact that you can kind of get along is ideal, helping to understand what your working relationship is going to be like. Oftentimes your PR expertise needs to be able to give you unvarnished truths and I think you need to be able to, as a vendor, understand that and take that. Right. If you don't respect the expertise of the person you've engaged with, then why are you bothering to engage? In the first place? I think the second thing is clear domain expertise, right? If someone understands the ins and outs of the AI industry, the industry for wireless, or the industry for silicon, take your pick. Those people who are going to understand those ins and outs there, who the influencers are, whether or not they have relationships with them, I think it's really going to be helpful in terms of getting that done and then finally just getting these people to show you what they've done in the past. Any competent PR agency or resource should be able to point to here, I've been there, done that, take a look. Everyone's got references. Those aren't really as relevant, I think, as actually being able to show past records of success.

What do you see is really the future of PR?

Good question. We talked about this a little bit before. We want to do the interview in terms of where we're going to, that kind of thing, and I've been thinking about that. I think there's three primary points I'd like to see come up. My prediction, I think that in a world of misinformation, eventually, truth is going to reign supreme. And as a result, I think the current pay-to-play type environment in which we're operating now, for those of you who are unaware, there are many people out there with their handout, for people saying, oh, I'll write up your press release for a dollar, here give me this nickel – or I will allow you take videos and make them look spiffy. And that stuff is great and it has a role, particularly from a content marketing development standpoint, that’s what I see it as - it’s not earned media in the sense of what it was. And I think we’re going to eventually see people swing back to unbiased media that challenges vendors to prove their worth or show their differentiation it’s going to be much tougher for them but also the results you get are going to be much more credible. Your saw in Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z attempt to control technology media and kind of create their future magazine – which bombed – and the reason it is primarily no one could believe a word that was written in it! And I think that as we see more unbiased truth come out I think those types of venues are going to again rise to the top.

The second thing I think your gonna start to see, and again this is probably me talking a little bit for myself, but again when we speak of PR resources often people think of PR agencies, agencies can be global institutions, 2 guys and a dog or in my case it’s me and just me. And what I’ve seen, and now I have that I’ve interacted with many more colleagues like myself, I’m seeing that the loan freelance but highly experienced and highly successful resource has a great deal to offer particularly to a startup realm and I think you’re going to see more and more people more comfortable with that, some organizations like yourself – Tech2marketing – a couple of people who know each other well, who are well connected in the industry and have a great deal of expertise and I think that format is going to become increasingly important. You are probably not shocked that I’m saying that in this particular venue but that’s the case.

The third and final thing I think from a perspective and I don’t know if a boon or a threat, I’ve heard it both from other folks – unless you’ve been hiding under a rock – Chat GPT that is kinda being proven out here – some people are saying it’s great I don’t need a PR resource I’ll just yell from Chat GPT and out will come all my content then I’ve also heard from my PR people saying oh great but it’s like having an intern who doesn’t know anything and you just spout stuff to them and they okay not very good, but kinda okay, kinda accurate junk comes out that you can use in order to do that. If I needed that I would hire an intern to do that I don’t necessarily see that’s the case but think there will be many many attempts, and maybe over time because as we all know AI improves over time the more data you put into it and it becomes increasingly better, we are going to see lots of people attempt to weaponize it and use it as a way to cut costs when it comes to content and some of those results are gonna be disastrous that’s my prediction. But we’ll see.



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