Looking to Hire a PR Firm? Here‘s What Small Business Owners Need to Know

As an entrepreneur looking to take your business to the next level, hiring a public relations firm can seem like an appealing option. You know that PR can generate buzz and credibility for your brand in ways you may struggle to do independently. But enlisting the services of an agency requires careful thought and preparation to yield returns on your investment. Here‘s what small business owners need to understand when evaluating hiring a PR firm.

Should You Even Hire a PR Firm Right Now?

Before immediately chasing the hype of working with an agency, ask yourself honestly if you need PR at this stage or if your efforts and budget are better directed elsewhere. Consider where your business currently stands on a few key fronts:

  • Product/Service: Do you have a strong product or service that meets a specific market need? Is it polished and market-ready vs still needing refinement? PR works best when amplifying an already solid offering.
  • Current Traction: Do you have existing happy customers, decent sales volume, organic web traffic or social media presence? PR builds on what’s already there so consider if you have enough momentum.
  • Business Fundamentals: Is your website optimized for conversions? Do you have sales and customer service processes established? PR generates interest you’ll need to capitalize on operationally.
  • Budget: Quality PR requires significant investment over an extended period for meaningful impact. Do you have at least $5,000-$10,000+ available monthly to allocate? Can you sustain PR efforts beyond a short-term campaign?

If your core business fundamentals aren‘t quite solid yet, your money may be better spent strengthening your product, website optimization, digital presence and operational infrastructure first. PR can amplify what’s already working well but won’t fix foundational weaknesses.

Choosing the Right PR Firm

Once you determine PR is your best next step, spend time identifying and vetting agencies thoroughly. Not all PR firms are created equal. You want one with proven experience in your specific niche, industry and business size. Here are key considerations as you research options:

  • Expertise: Review their client portfolio and case studies for experience serving companies like yours. Ask about prior results achieving goals similar to your own.
  • Company Culture: Assess if their values and work styles align with your own. You’ll be collaborating closely so shared mindsets help.
  • Staffing: Meet the specific team that will manage your account. Seek a mix of seasoned PR veterans as well as junior talent. Ask about personnel turnover rates.
  • Continuity: Understand their staffing model for your account. Do you have a primary point of contact or does it change constantly? How do they ensure consistency?
  • Specialization: PR agencies usually focus within specific spaces. Seek one matching your niche vs. generalists who claim expertise across all industries.
  • Size: Consider pros and cons of boutique firms vs. large agencies. Evaluate based on your budget, service needs and preferences for customization vs breadth of resources.

Vetting PR firms takes significant diligence since you’re entrusting an external partner to manage your brand image and messaging. But the due diligence is worth it to find the right strategic fit.

Defining the Engagement Expectations and Metrics

Once you select a PR partner, clearly communicate expected outcomes upfront and get agreements in writing. Be specific on defining:

  • Your target audiences and buyer personas
  • Business goals you need PR support with (awareness, leads, sales etc.)
  • What PR success looks like for you in concrete metrics
  • Strategic plan the firm will execute against those goals
  • Roles and responsibilities on both sides
  • Timelines for progress and results
  • Communication protocols
  • PR budget and payment terms

Leave no assumptions unset to avoid misalignment later. Codify measurable targets so you can monitor progress transparently along the way.

Laying the Foundation for PR Success

To maximize the impact of working with a PR firm, invest upfront in getting your internal house in order. Having the following in place shows you’re primed for growth and ready to capitalize on the interest PR generates:

  • Refined Messaging: Clarify your brand positioning and key messages you want to communicate through PR.
  • Content Assets: Develop visual assets, website content, blogs, videos and other media that PR teams can plug into campaigns.
  • Media Training: Get leadership coached on speaking effectively and on-brand in interviews.
  • Design Elements: Create logo, color palette, slogan, packaging, templates to uniquely define your visual brand.
  • Digital Presence: Be active on social media and have profiles/pages set up on key platforms.
  • Inquiry Handling: Scale customer service and sales operations to handle increased inquiries from PR efforts.

While PR firms provide strategy and execution, you supply the raw materials for them to work with in promoting your brand. Investing in these fundamentals sets you both up for success.

Budgeting Appropriately for Quality PR

Like most worthwhile business endeavors, good PR requires significant investment. But it can yield tremendous dividends when done effectively. Be sure to allocate sufficient budget to execute the strategic PR plan robustly. Consider the following cost factors:

  • Monthly Retainer: Budget at least $5,000-$10,000+ to work with a reputable PR firm depending on your niche and scope. Quality talent and effort costs accordingly.
  • Campaign Expenses: Factor in hard costs for PR activities like press releases, events, content creation, and media placements. These vary widely based on goals.
  • Duration: PR is an extended, long-game endeavor. Plan for a minimum 6-12 month engagement to see meaningful results. Maintain efforts consistently, not just short bursts.

For perspective, SMBs typically invest around $1,200-$3,500 monthly on marketing overall. PR should represent a sizable portion of your total marketing budget to make an impact. While not cheap, as your business scales, the brand visibility and authority PR provides will prove well worth the investment.

The Bottom Line

Enlisting a PR firm can take your small business to new heights. But rushing into the decision without laying the groundwork first will limit your return. Be strategic and patient. When the time is right and you pick the perfect partner, you’ll be primed to leverage the immense power of PR to transform your brand and fuel sustainable growth.