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How to Know When (if ever) it’s Time to Hire a PR Agency
The whole premise of THEPRBAR inc. is to teach entrepreneurs how to do their own PR (public relations). Thus, I thought it might be about time to address the elephant in the room – why should you learn to DIY when you can just hire a PR agency instead? Well, to be honest, it’s not a black and white answer. In fact, the answer is going to be different for everyone. Before I dive into how to know when, if ever, it’s time to hire a public relations agency, let me first give you a little background on why I’m qualified to even hand out this advice.
1. I have worked for two very different PR agencies – one in lifestyle, one in tech, one all-female, one male-dominated. I have pitched more clients than I can count, wrote a wide variety of contracts, seen massive success (aka happy clients) and irrefutable failure (aka angry clients).
2. I have worked as the in-house Director and VP of PR for three different companies. Within those roles, I have both chosen to operate solo, and onboard agencies.
3. I have side-hustled through it all by teaching entrepreneurs how to do their own PR. While at first I must admit I was more so financially motived, I did reach a point where my 8-5 could have allowed me to step away from the extended after-hours gig. But, I chose not to.
I recognized, very clearly, that all the situations I mentioned above serve a purpose and need to differing entrepreneurs and businesses. Here are the factors you should consider when deciding if you should hire a PR agency or learn to DIY.
1. Are you ready for a commitment?
9 out of 10 publicists will tell you the same thing – PR takes time. Good PR agencies know this and thus have built their contracts to operate on monthly retainers with a locked-in time commitment. Typically, contracts can range from 3 months (for smaller firms) up to 1 year (larger/more established firms.) If you encounter that “one publicist” who doesn’t ask for a retainer, proceed with caution – because A. They don’t truly understand the realities of PR B. They’re coming from a place of desperation; or C. They really are THAT good – but in that case, why aren’t they charging you more? This may all sound blunt, but it’s true. The waiting game that is PR is one of the first things I discuss with all of my clients. While it’s not what business owners like to hear, it’s the reality.
2. Can you afford a PR agency?
Like every other service-based company, PR agencies cost money. The good ones cost more. Even at a boutique PR agency, you can expect to see a reoccurring price tag of 3k – 15k per month (ballpark). Bigger PR firms? Let’s just say high five and six-figure monthly contracts are a very real thing. Keyword – as I mentioned above – reoccurring. Take that price tag and multiply it by whatever time commitment a PR agency is asking to lock down….you can do the math from there.
Thus, consider if you are at a point in your business where you can truly afford, with confidence, to pay this fee. Likely, if you’re just starting your business, or don’t have a hefty PR/Marketing budget, hiring a PR firm may simply be unrealistic.
3. Can you let go?
When you hire a PR firm, you are trusting them to act as an extension of your brand. They become the gatekeepers between your company, the media, and the public. To some that thought is terrifying. It can be hard to trust another business with your livelihood. So, if you are going to hire a PR firm, ALWAYS ask for references, do your research, never feel rushed, and make sure you are confident and ready to let go of the reigns, well at least share them. Furthermore, make sure you’re confident that whoever is representing your brand can do so authentically.
4. Are you prepared to make an informed decision?
Confidence and trust typically go hand-in-hand. You have to have confidence in a firm, in order to trust them. So, how do you gain that confidence? We all operate a bit differently in this category.
For some, references might be enough. For others (like me) that’s just scraping the surface. I trust things that I know. For example, when I did in-house PR, I was extremely confident going through the agency onboarding process because I knew what to look for. I knew what questions to ask. I could speak their language. I could spot red flags from a mile away. I could tell, based on their portfolio and overall strategy, if my company and theirs would be a mutually good fit. I knew how to negotiate and read a PR contract. Things go a lot smoother in a business transaction when both parties are on the same page from start to finish.
So ask yourself, do you really know what to look for in a PR firm? If you don’t, it’s likely too early to onboard an agency because you won’t know how to confidently determine your ROI.
5. Do you have time to DIY?
One of the major PROs of onboarding a firm is that they do the research, pitching, contact-building, back-and-forth leg work that takes time – a lot of time. If you’re at a point in your business where you can afford to contract a PR firm, you’re highly likely to appreciate the reduced workload and pre-established connections. I mean if we could all afford to have someone clean our house every day wouldn’t we? (If you answered no, refer back to point 3.)
So, should you hire a PR agency?
I’m truly sorry but I can’t answer that question for you without knowing you specifically (like I said, it’s different for everyone.) But I can give you a few more questions – in addition to those outlined above – to ask yourself.
Why do you want PR? How much do you know about PR? Do you know what it can do for your business? Past that, what’s your end game? Do you want to increase your brand awareness? Drive sales? Mitigate potential negative customer feedback? Amp up your overall company valuation? All the above?
For entrepreneurs just getting started or in the early years of building your brand, I suggest learning to DIY PR. While it will take time and effort, investing in yourself in the short term, will save you money and ensure you’re prepared to make strategic and informed decisions in the long term.
Want to talk through these questions together? Feel free to reach out or schedule a Happy Hour. After all, I built THEPRBAR to equip female entrepreneurs with the strategic insight and key tools needed to promote her own empire.