5 Reasons You Won’t Regret Hiring a Good PR Agency

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In his 2011 book, How to Win at the Sport of Business, Mark Cuban states that “startups should never hire a PR firm.” He’s wrong.

Who am I to disagree with an American businessman, investor, author, NBA team owner, philanthropist, and the most famous shark on Shark Tank?

In my defense, I’ve spent 16 years working with and for PR agencies. Many of whom used PR to play an important role in a variety of successful startup ventures—from peanuts to $86 million. I also started my own communications company, Hearsay. From nothing. In a place where I knew no one. And it was profitable day one.

Yet even as I read Mark’s words I couldn’t help but smile at his frustrations with hiring a PR agency. I, too, have found PR people as disappointing.

Most of the time, PR agencies: • Don’t know how to tell a story. • Rip you, the client, off. • Act like they know everything. • Take more credit than they deserve.

In fact, the bullets above are a few of the biggest reasons why I decided to start my own company aimed at helping startups and small businesses share their stories.

Mark goes on to add, “I have no doubt that a smart PR person can add value to a startup. The problem is that all things considered, it’s not enough value.”

What Mark is alluding to is that what might be best for you is doing PR yourself. Simply because too many PR firms fail to deliver the value they’re responsible for delivering. That is, until you find the right PR professional that suits your needs.

Which is why I’m here to tell you unequivocally that PR is valuable to startups and entrepreneurs. Ventures of all sizes are broken on the backs of the media and it’s the professionals who understand what PR really is that make such endeavors successful.

Mark and I both agree that there is a cost/benefit exchange in public relations. The challenge being that most agencies are going to waste your money because they don’t know how to deliver the value startups and entrepreneur’s need.

Knowing what you can and should get from PR agencies so that you can benefit from their invaluable expertise is crucial. When the right match occurs, everyone wins: more efficient use of your time, coverage of your business, and sophisticated reporting about your industry.

Here are five reasons you won’t regret hiring a good PR agency.

1. PR agencies keep your story honest. In all of my years of PR, I have never met a CEO or founder who thought his or her product was anything but newsworthy.

Good PR agencies temper that enthusiasm and inject it with realism. No one wants to hear their company isn’t newsworthy, but some companies simply are not. Good PR agencies keep it real. Really good ones find other creative ways to communicate the company’s brand value.

Bad PR people feed egos and apologize later, which serves no one’s best interest. If you want unfettered praise about your product or your company, call your mother. The more open and honest you are about your story and media goals, the more strategic you can be.

If you want to tell a story, write three good lines in an email to a reporter who covers your industry. If you can’t entice a reporter in as little as three lines, you’ll never get their attention. And if you don’t know who to send the email to, shoot me an email. I know a really good PR person.

2. A PR person’s past experience means they know the right reporters and outlets. I’ve worked with Emmy Award winners and arrogant sloths alike. Some of my closest friends are reporters.

I’ve been there at their proudest moments (i.e., winning an Emmy). I’ve been there at their lowest (i.e., mid-triathlon medic tents in a Vegas desert). This means my experiences color, influence, and inform every client engagement I take.

My past successes don’t mean I can always make a future client successful, but they do mean I have access. If the story is good, it will get heard—that’s valuable in this competitive media landscape. If a story is bad or mediocre, all the contacts in the world won’t help. But if the story is good, then they can help immensely.

3. PR people may not know everything, but might know more than you. I’ll be the first to admit that there is something in the water at many agencies that makes staffers think they know much more than they do. It’s annoying. But remember one thing: PR professionals do PR everyday, all day.

While an entrepreneur is dealing with quality issues or in meetings, your PR agency is doing PR. So when they say it’s not cool to send a gift to a reporter after a story has hit, don’t send one. And when they say your startup story isn’t ready for O, The Oprah Magazine, they’re right.

Don’t always assume all PR people are lazy or over-extended. Some are brilliant. You know what they say about people who assume.

4. Brilliant PR people are always thinking beyond publicity. Here’s a fun fact: According to a past Pew study, which is even more relevant now, about 10 companies represent more than 40 percent of all tech press coverage. You know which companies they are; they’re in the press every day.

Guess what this means? Your media chances just got sliced almost in half. Moral of the story: you had better find another way to communicate with your audiences. Good PR agencies are doing just that. And I guarantee you, the most carefully crafted ideas aren’t going to come from the internal PR manager at your startup.

5. PR agencies are a better value than an internal employee. Anyone who thinks a PR manager can do the work of a PR agency is either cheap, has never had a good PR firm, doesn’t really care, or some combination of all of the above.

Yes, I really feel this way.

Please don’t give me some financial analysis that shows an internal hire is cheaper. If that were true, you’d have accounting and law departments at every company in America, and fewer accounting and law firms. The fallacy that a $40,000 PR contract is better spent on one fulltime employee (or more) is especially ill-conceived. With payroll taxes and benefits, any employee actually costs about 20 percent more than a service contract.

Here’s the real kicker no one thinks of: When you hire an employee, you only get that individual’s personal experience. When you hire an agency, you get the whole team’s perspective and background.

Also, what happens to that PR manager after six months? He or she realizes that the growth path inside the company is outside their PR role, and he or she starts to demonstrate other skills and assess where they might contribute to the organization in a larger, more lucrative role. Then, they turn to you and recommend hiring an agency so they can focus on their core competencies.

There are many business reasons to hire or not hire a PR firm. Most are valid. But to dismiss any option based on one’s own poor experiences is questionable advice—whether it comes from Mark Cuban or not.

Are you ready to take your small business or startup to the next level with PR?

Want more helpful tips like the ones above plus more? Check out The Buzz: A Media Darling’s Guide to Press Coverage, get on the wait list for Hearsay’s PR mastermind group (launching in February), or email me directly to schedule a Mini PR or Mini PR Plus session today!