For many small businesses and startups considering investing in Public Relations for the first time, it might appear that all PR agencies and freelancers are the same. But, like in many fields, there is a wide gamut of services and specialities, and finding the right fit for your small business is key, write Kathryn Van Kuyk and Anthony Caruana, co-CEOs and co-founders, Media-Wize.
The big, wide world of PR
Many public relations practitioners focus on certain niches and specialities. One way to understand the spectrum of different PR practitioners is to break them into three groups.
The first has a specific focus on helping organisations who want to reach consumers (B2C). Then there are those that focus on helping organisations who want to sell to other businesses (B2B), with the last group working in government and community relations.
Within each of those groups there are in-house professionals that are directly employed by businesses, and those that work in PR agencies or work freelance.
PR is a massive industry and the people working in it become subject matter experts. This can be focusing on working on consumer brands, broken further down into those that specialise in entertainment, fashion, lifestyle, beauty, health and wellbeing, fast moving consumer goods and other sectors. Specialist B2B practitioners focus on verticals such as tech, startups, law, environment, engineering, medical and so on.
Like any industry, there are companies and individuals that bring their own strengths and skills. There are PR firms and freelancers that specialise in media relations, some who only write copy, others that handle crisis communications, investor relations, analyst relations or social media. As you scratch the surface, you’ll find that there are myriad specialised skills PR can offer.
How to select the right PR for your small business
Selecting the right PR for your small business means you need to hone in on the type of work you want them to do and then find someone with a track record of similar work. You need to find someone or an agency that already understands the industry you’re in. If your goal is to achieve media coverage, you need someone who understands the target media you want to reach and knows how to write copy that will resonate for your target audience.
Many companies that have had a poor initial experience with PR because they chose a PR partner that wasn’t the right fit for their needs.
For example, jumping into working with a PR who has a consumer background, but giving them a startup, tech B2B campaign, can be a recipe for disaster. A consumer practitioner will think in terms of consumer media. If your target customers are other businesses, you need someone that understands B2B public relations, rather than B2C. The best place for your message is likely not to be on the Today Show, but instead in a technology business publication.
When deciding who to engage, it is important to find someone who is transparent and will not tie you to a monthly retainer without disclosing how many hours of service you will get for that spend. It is also important to understand that PR is a partnership, and you need to be ready to put in time and effort to help maximise results. This means making the time to share insights, information and learnings with your chosen PR, committing to closely review all copy written about your business, and being prepared to respond as a spokesperson to media opportunities, often at short notice.
Like with any hire for your business, you need to find the right cultural fit and ensure your objectives are aligned. The campaign goals must be clear and well understood, and you need realistic expectations.
You’ll know you have the right PR partner and are building a great relationship because there will be fast results. If engaging someone to specialise in media relations, coverage should start to appear fast. If nothing has been published after two months, it is a sign the fit is wrong or the practitioner isn’t providing you the counsel, guidance and advice that you really need to succeed.
A good PR will know what will work, how to do it, and lead you and coach you on the journey.
Ask the right questions
When you prepare to interview a new staff member, you’ll have a set of questions ready so you can be sure you’re making a great hire. The same goes for choosing a PR partner; you need to be prepared.
Here are some questions to ask when determining if a PR agency or freelancer is the right fit for your business:
- Do you specialise in B2C or B2B?
- Have you worked in (industry sector) before?
- What would be the top media outlets you would target for us?
- Can you show us examples of similar work – both content written and results achieved?
- What tactics would you propose to use for us?
- What will you need from us to succeed?
- What are the minimum KPIs you would set for us to use to benchmark success?
- How much do you charge per hour and is there a minimum monthly spend required?
- Do you let us check the copy before sending it to a journalist?
- Will you build a story plan, so we can see what ideas you suggest will work?
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