Dear StartUp FASHION: How Do You Know if You are Ready for a PR Firm?
Dear StartUp FASHION is a new column we’re introducing. We asked some of our Community members for their most pressing marketing questions and we received great responses! We hope to address all of them in time, but we’re going to start by answering a PR question – as many of you may be ramping up efforts in this area as we approach fall, the industry’s busiest season.
Here’s the question:
Dear StartUp FASHION, working with a PR firm feels like an important step in business, but how do you know if you’re ready for one? How do you know if it’s really worth the money because it’s quite an expense, especially for a new brand?
What you need to know before launching a PR campaign
First, keep in mind that PR is one aspect of a marketing plan. Let’s back up for a minute and make sure all readers are on the same page.
Some marketing background: PR is just one example of a marketing tactic – one of many that you will probably use over the life of your brand. Other examples of tactics include digital advertising, events, and content strategy, to name a few. Specifically, PR is the process in which companies and individuals communicate to their audiences through media.
Know Your Target Audience
Before you specifically evaluate the need for PR – you must begin with a deep understanding of your target audience, and knowledge of marketing goals and executional options.
We won’t get into too much detail about target audiences here, but the overall idea is that you need to know who you are going after. Who is your customer and why should they be interested in, and want to buy your product? This is crucial information as it drives all marketing – including PR.
Choosing A Marketing Strategy
For a marketing strategy (in a nutshell), you need clear goals and an overall budget, set against a specific time period. Then, you need to evaluate the combination of tactics available and identify which of these will be best for your overall goals. After that, assign direct objectives/desired results and set a portion of the overall budget against each tactic.
Brief examples: If your goal is to drive awareness about your brand, then maybe PR is the best option for you. If your goal is to drive direct and immediate sales, perhaps something like social ads would be best. If your goal is to drive more sales from wholesalers, then trade shows might be your best bet.
A note about budgeting – this is a really important part of the whole equation. You absolutely need a clear, realistic idea of what you are able to spend, and whether or not that budget actually allows you to use the tactics you want. This is going to require some research, especially with PR – as prices for services can be determined by many variables.
Building On Historical Information
Ideally, you will have some historical information upon which to build your marketing strategy. For example, if in the past you received press hits and drove positive results, such as traffic to your site and an increase of sales, then you may want to dedicate a hefty portion of your budget towards getting more press.
If you do not have historical data, this is where you have to start experimenting. Marketing is a process of testing different options and optimizing the overall mix of tactics over time. This is especially true for startups. Your aim is to figure out how to spend your budget for the maximum impact. Businesses approach the process of experimentation differently. Some spread a budget out against several different tactics and monitor results, while others choose one or two, test those and optimize. Personally, I would suggest investing in one or two tactics, carefully evaluate results, and go from there.
If you have a hunch (that’s hopefully backed up with some, however slight, data) that PR would work for your business, then dedicate resources, time, and energy towards it. Make sure to set objectives and analyze results against them.
Ready to move forward with PR?
To answer the question, “How do you know if you are ready to move forward with PR?” a business needs to:
- Have a solid brand story, know the products inside and out, and understand your brand’s positioning in the market.
- Understand your target audiences.
- Have a sound marketing strategy and corresponding budget.
- Know specific PR objectives.
There can be many different types of objects, and you may strive for one or a combination. Examples include: Drive awareness, drive direct sales, establish a sense of authority and prestige, inform audiences, and set or shift attitudes towards the brand.
If you do not know this information, it will be challenging to create an effective PR campaign – whether it is handled by someone on your team or a hired agency or consultant. Of course, a great PR firm or consultant will be able to help you refine some of this information and provide specifics necessary to carry out the initiatives, but they need a foundation to work off of.
For example, based on your exact target audiences, the PR strategist will plan which angle of your story is most likely to appeal to the group, and which publications and media will be most likely to teach them.
Hiring A PR Firm Or Consultant
We could spend an entire article dedicated to this alone, but once you have decided to move forward with a PR team or consultant, you need to find one. You can hire an agency, freelancer, or consultant. To decide what is best for you, you’re going to have to do some digging into the difference in offerings, pricing, and other factors. Often for startups, a consultant/freelancer is the way to go. You’ll get personalized service, they are more flexible with time regarding contract commitments and prices will be lower than hiring an agency who might pull together a larger team to work on your project.
You can find services through search and social media, but be aware that getting introduced can often be tricky, as PR seems to rely on word-of-mouth and personal intros more than any other marketing specialty (in my experience anyway). And prices can seem all over the place. There isn’t really an easy way to do navigate this landscape without doing the research. Ask around for recommendations, and search online and through social media to find agencies and people that might be a good fit.
What is a good fit? Of course, a personal connection is necessary – as you are going to be spending time with these people. Beyond that, look for firms or a consultant that specializes in your market and product. Sports PR is very different than Fashion PR.
Enter initial discussions armed with your objectives and budget. Ask for a recent client list, press clips, and example reports.
Evaluating PR: How Do You Know If It’s Really Worth the Money?
It’s difficult to tell upfront if it is going to be worth the cost because you cannot predict the results. You can plan for success with a solid strategy, but it’s not guaranteed. The best way to evaluate effectiveness is to measure PR outcomes against your initial objectives (this is why they are so important to determine up-front) and see where you stand. Did your campaign achieve what you set out to gain? Did you get the types of placements you wanted? Did you reach your target audience? Start with smaller campaigns and commitments, and if you get positive results, dedicate more resources to building out more comprehensive plans. Over time, you will have the insight needed to make stronger marketing and PR decisions.