PR is a racket. There, I said it. It’s not that they are trying to pull a fast one on you, or that they charge too much - it is the fact that the idea that drove the need for pure PR companies is no longer valid. Especially for start-ups.
We once relied solely on PR companies for access to press. Their rolodex was golden and press contacts were untouchable without this middleman.
This is no longer the case. The democratization of information allows anyone to easily find and contact people, be it through LinkedIn or even emails readily available on news websites. The key differentiator in success is the ability to craft an intriguing pitch (which is actually more difficult than you might imagine).
I had lunch with a venture capitalist not long ago. He was ruminating on his last experience with hiring an in-house PR lead - how it had soured him on the entire idea of PR. I immediately asked him one question - “Did this person come from a PR agency background or an in-house marketing background?”
Here’s the thing - an in-house marketer at a start-up is used to living and breathing the pitch. Every day, they find new and unique ways to explain why their product will change the world. They pivot the messaging constantly, based on new product updates and the ever-changing start-up landscape. They learn to work closely with CEOs on a daily basis, pushing them to settle on succinct messaging and training them to smoothly pitch it everywhere from fundraising meetings to press calls. And finally, when there is a press event - the in-house marketer is the one that actually writes the press release, the quotes for articles, etc.
While an in-house marketer is honing these skills, an agency PR person is more focused on sales. Agency PR does one thing. They connect you to press. They use any materials you have available, and hope that they are interesting enough for press to bite. They charge high prices for limited hours, and many of those are spent sitting on calls listening in while the CEO speaks with press (and afterwards offering very little productive feedback). And they hope that you will keep paying them a retainer month after month even when you don’t have press needs that month (as is often the case at start-ups).
I’m not saying that you don’t need outsourced PR. I’m saying to consider carefully who you hire. Look for a team that offers a full messaging package, crafting from the ground up, writes your press releases and creates your press packages. Moreover, one that focuses largely on your size of business, as the press cycles of start-ups are vastly different than the needs of larger companies.