Now that I own my own business I’ve become more acutely aware of managing costs than ever before. I started out at a budget conscious small PR company and learned to run a tight ship but that was different – it wasn’t my own money. I hope that this new perspective makes me a better partner to the fellow business owners who I want to work with and since I’ve been thinking about that I thought I’d write a post on how to get the best from a PR agency (and whether you really need one) if you are a start-up thinking about doing some PR.

Before starting Kindling Communications I worked in small and large PR companies and also in-house where I hired PR agencies, so I’ve been on both sides of the table, so to speak. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:

You can’t totally delegate PR

I often chat to CEOs who say they hired a PR company, spent time giving them a full brief, then checked in three months later and were really disappointed with the results. This could be because the PR company wasn’t that great, or not the right fit for you, but maybe it’s because you weren’t involved enough. If you are the brains of the company, you are the most interesting person to journalists. You’ve got to get in front of them but also in front of your PR agency so they can get inspired and create some great media pitches. If you hired the PR company because you didn’t have time in the first place then maybe take a different approach. Find one or two journalists who really matter to you and spend your time building a relationship just with them.

Bigger isn’t always better

The big PR companies have impressive client rosters and are great at what they do. I worked for the world’s largest independent agency and can confidently say they do outstanding work. I was proud of all the work I did there; I worked with some very talented people and I learned a lot. But the majority of our clients were big companies with big budgets (I’m talking $20k+ per month). My smaller clients didn’t get the same attention – certainly not from the senior management – they didn’t get access to our best thinking or our most experienced people. If you are a small company then you are probably better suited to an agency closer to your own size. They’ll understand you better and I’m sure they’ll care about you more.

It’s worth considering an in-house PR person instead of an agency

The CEO of a mid-sized and fast growing mobile company told me that he was never entirely happy with his PR until he hired someone in-house. There are pros and cons here but if you are fairly established and know that PR is going to be an important tool for growing your business then it’s worth thinking about this. You could hire someone full time or you could go with a consultant for a couple of days a week. This person will become really immersed in your business and understand how you think so will be able to create great media pitches without having to closely involve you every time. The cons to consider are that a) it’s harder to keep perspective once you are on the inside and b) you don’t have access to as wide a pool of skills. Good PR agencies challenge your thinking and keep you relevant and they can offer a range of specialist services like media training and crisis communications.