Having been in the PR industry for a while now, I’ve seen how costly it is for clients to sign on with a new agency. In fact, more often than not, I’ve been a bit appalled by the mismatch of price-tag to value add. For startups in particular, PR can be a tempting band-aid for founders who are trying to cultivate buzz so that they can a) acquire new customers and b) get in front of potential investors. While these are both very important outcomes, it’s not always prudent for startups to shell out a major portion of their available funds for a PR agency — and there are cheaper ways around this costly business relationship.

  1. Invest in a one-time workshop or webinar to get a lay of the land. Avoid spending $10,000 a month for a PR agency but DO plan to make an initial investment to hear best practices from an expert. I’ve seen many founders attempt to bullishly approach their own PR strategies without understanding what “PR” really means to begin with. This never ends well and can actually harm the reputation of the startup, preventing media coverage in the future. Get in touch with an expert through your own network or find a webinar or workshop that will provide take-home resources that you can continue to reference.
  2. Outsource “non-strategic” tasks to an intern or associate. Now that you have your “PR 101” landscape laid out for you, it’s time to assess what can be done without using your own time as a founder. Consider hiring a PR/Comms student from a local University to tackle about 5 hours per week of your pitching. Leverage the best practices that you’ve learned from your expert resources and put together a series of email campaigns, a press kit, and some metrics — then outsource the actual emailing and follow-ups to an associate or intern. If it helps you sleep at night, ask your helper to bcc you on the threads.
  3. Build up your own network and start discreetly pitching — the right way. Get your own name out there as a founder by attending local startup events where you suspect media might be hanging around. Even if you don’t meet a slew of journalists at your first event, you should spend time asking other attendees who their favorite media contacts are. Beyond this, read about startups every day. See which journalists are covering certain industries or trends. Never, ever email a journalist who doesn’t strike you as someone who already covers news related to your company. You will not hear back. Build up a spreadsheet and maintain your “CRM for journalists” constantly. Send out questions rather than pitches: “I wanted to hear what _______’s goals are this month for your editorial contributions. I’d be interested in submitting work – what’s the best way to go about that?”. Chances are, you will get a response – and then you have a precious window of opportunity to build a relationship. Do this, and repeat.

Garnering media buzz for startups can be very tricky and almost always has its moments of frustration, but reaching out to experts in the field and even journalists themselves to learn more about best practices is a great place to start.