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Some companies coming out of a startup accelerator program might have a few million in revenue, established brand recognition, and solid brand loyalty from customers. But when it comes to building their brand and customer base, many are just getting started. 

These companies are often faced with one of three PR challenges:

    • Nobody knows about the company — you’re starting from scratch.
    • You’ve given PR a shot but were never able to build a drumbeat that truly raises awareness. (Perhaps you hired an agency and set $20k on fire before realizing it wasn’t going to be the right solution.)
    • You know you need PR because something big is coming up and you want to make a splash (funding, company launch, big partnership announcement, new product release, etc.).

No matter which of these buckets you fall into, there are a few different approaches you can take as you think through how to grow your brand – a critical component to customer acquisition, gaining investor attention, and growing market share.

PR is about third party validation. You can spend all the money in the world on advertising but — you’re selling yourself. It’s when you have someone else selling for you that people start to listen.

If you fall into one of these three buckets and you know that PR is something you need to “do,” there are four main options available to you, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

1. Hire an agency.
Benefits are that you get a whole team working on our account, ranging from entry level “pitch pushers” to senior-level strategic counsel. PR agencies work with multiple clients at once so they are generally more aware of industry events and trends that they can help you to piggyback on. They have media databases for press research/targeting and established press contacts to tap into. On the downside, they’re expensive. And unless you work with a boutique firm that can get up and running on your business and technology quickly, you’re going to be paying a lot of money for results that may not meet your expectations. Startups fall victim to the lure of a big name agency time and again and are rarely ever satisfied.

2. Hire a freelancer.
Freelancers are typically less expensive than an agency (~$2k–$5k). If they’re local they can come into the office, join company meetings, and are generally accessible. Instead of a whole team you get one individual working on your account, but freelancers typically have multiple clients so you may find yourself fighting for attention. It’s one person, and they have to manage their time accordingly.

3. Hire in-house PR.
With in-house PR you have one person that is fully immersed in your brand. Going this route is generally less expensive than an agency, but more expensive than hiring a freelancer because you have the added cost of bringing on a FTE. With In-house PR, you typically have one person running your whole PR initiative, so they usually wear multiple hats. They can do your PR, run your social media efforts, develop internal comms, customer comms, etc. They can support the organization more widely and can play a key role as you scale your business.

4. Go it alone.
Early stage companies may not have budget to go with options #1-3. Founders are entrepreneurs. They know PR is something they “need” and they’re willing to put some skin in the game to see if they can make some progress on their own. It’s affordable. But PR is extremely time-consuming to do well, and most founders want and need to focus on building their business. They probably don’t have pre-established relationships with the press and it takes a lot of time and effort to build them.

No matter which route you choose, PR is an important initiative to help grow your business. Finding the right solution will depend on your stage of growth, budget, and how much time/effort you’re willing to invest.

See Sonya speak tonight at Changemaker Chats in Boulder! 


Sonya Hausafus Sonya Hausafus
As a startup veteran, Sonya has built and led marketing teams for a number of venture-backed organizations including sovrn, an adtech company (formerly Lijit Networks, acquired by Federated Media Publishing), and StillSecure, a B2B network security company. Prior, she spent almost a decade working for high-tech public relations agency Weber Shandwick. @sonyahausafus

  • Best Mom Products

    Great article Sonya. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs for almost 10 years and recently created a DIY PR course to fill this exact need. While it can be time consuming to do PR yourself, technology like ANewsTip.com makes it easy to connect with the right journalists and reporters and HARO provides leads 3x a day. http://www.rachelaolsen.com/businesscelebrity

  • kyledaustin2440

    @sonyahausafus ‘s piece offers some good advice for startups. I’ve come to believe that somewhere between a boutique firm and a freelancer is often a good place to start. Find a few senior-level, “hired guns” that can get up and running on your business and technology very quickly and cost-effectively. It seems to be ideal with for startups with marketing budgets that often fall below the minimum monthly retainers sought after by traditional agencies and short of bringing in someone internally full-time that has the experience.

    In addition, over the years of running BMV, and consulting for startups such as RadPad, Locent, NextCaller, Door of Clubs, Placester, RunKeeper, Chai Energy, Anthology, Zaarly and others; we’ve found that a combination of PR/media relations, content marketing/social and influencer marketing can work best for driving leads and awareness. Make sure you have someone or some folks that have experience across these areas. As startup demand has increased in this area, we’ve even started to offer some DIY programs (http://beantownmv.com/diy/) that can help startups avoid ongoing retainers and stick with one-time payments and advice to execute on campaigns themselves.