Does my small business need a PR agency?

What does a PR Agency actually do?

If you want to know whether to instruct a public relations agency, the short answer is maybe. The concept of public relations covers a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their stakeholders, including customers, shareholders and the media. It has been defined by the Public Relations Society of America as encompassing the following:

  • Anticipating, analysing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes and issues that might impact, for good or ill, the operations and plans of the organization.
  • Counselling management at all levels in the organization with regard to policy decisions, courses of action and communication, taking into account their public ramifications and the organization’s social or citizenship responsibilities.
  • Researching, conducting and evaluating, on a continuing basis, programs of action and communication to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organization’s aims. These may include marketing; financial; fund raising; employee, community or government relations; and other programs.
  • Planning and implementing the organization’s efforts to influence or change public policy. Setting objectives, planning, budgeting, recruiting and training staff, developing facilities — in short, managing the resources needed to perform all of the above.

What to consider before engaging a PR agency

This all sounds great, but the answer to the surprisingly complex question ‘Should I get a PR agency?’ could still be no, or at least not yet. Before you consider calling a public relations firm, here are the four questions you need to answer:

  1. Have you nailed your value proposition and business objectives? Does your product or service really stand up? There is no point in shouting about something that’s mediocre and doesn’t work well.
  2. Are you ready to scale up? Ensure your on-line and operational systems are running smoothly. A public relations firm will get press coverage for your business and we know that all press is good press right? Well yes, but if the coverage you receive results in a spike in sales or interest you need to be able to respond to this and fulfil demand. Make sure that you are prepared with appropriate on-line functionality (including international sales capability if appropriate) and sufficient inventory before going live with a campaign.
  3. Can you afford an agency? This is an especially important consideration for start-ups. An agency will cost thousands of dollars per month and if your cash flow is limited, being tied into such a significant outgoing can be dangerous. According to Mark Cuban, start-ups are better off handling their own press and PR in the early stages. A new-business owner is best placed to communicate with media about his/her brand, not least because briefing PR’s can be a time-suck.
  4. Are you ready to listen, and share your business plan? It may seem a little obvious but you will never see a return on your investment in a PR agencyi if you don’t take their advice – it can be hard to let go. You will also need to share your business plan, goals and any data/analytics that you already have. If this worries you, consider having them sign a non-disclosure agreement.

There are plenty of benefits to hiring a PR agency, too. Modern agencies are equipped to provide a suite of functions for your business – including media relations, social strategy, content strategy and production. This can achieve third-party influencer endorsements that are so important for building trust and sales in the modern market place as well as just getting your name out there.

The four rules for working with a PR agency

If the time is right for your business to invest in dedicated public relations support it is important to make the right hire and go into this new relationship with your eyes open. Be ready to make the most of your agency by applying these four rules for working with an agency:

  1. Define what you want to achieve and how you will measure success
  2. Allot resources to managing the agency and a spokesperson/people that will represent your company and respond to calls from the media
  3. Choose an agency, and a manager, that fits your business; trust and chemistry are crucial to getting the best results. You should integrate the agency’s efforts with your overall marketing strategy so that they work together.
  4. Relinquish the comfort zone, you should feel the agency is pushing you with their ideas and even making you uncomfortable on occasion or they are not giving you value.

The right agency will bring you access to key journalists and media in your sector. They will be honest with you about the best approach and help find a way to communicate your brand to the media in the most effective way. An agency also brings the background and ability of a whole PR team whose combined experience delivers value.

While no PR agency is a silver bullet, and committing to an agency can be costly, answering the questions above and considering agency support will help you understand more about your business and its outreach.

So, should you hire a PR agency? Maybe, maybe not – but either way it’s good practice to keep asking the questions.