pr_startupsThe launch of your startup has come and gone, generating a fair amount of press in its wake. Between it and your corresponding fundraising campaign, you’re feeling pretty confident on the media exposure front.

Then, suddenly there’s a shift followed by literal radio silence with virtually no media mentions of your start up and a mild panic sets in.

You call for a strategy meeting and open the floor to suggestions. A well-intentioned junior associate floats the idea of hiring a PR agency to help fill in some of the gaps and go after targeted industry outlets.

While it may sound like a good idea in theory, it’s vital to take some time and examine your company before making any decisions. Without ensuring you’re in the right stage of your business model, you could end up wasting valuable dollars at a very critical time in your company’s development.

In fact, it’s precisely the reason many startups get into hot water and what saddles startup PR campaigns with a bad rap.

Fortunately, with a bit of planning, a little insight, and a solid strategy you could be swimming in media coverage. But before you begin fielding requests from your top influencers, heed these sage pieces of advice to determine when and if you’re truly ready to bring on an outside PR firm.

1) Make Sure You Have an Appropriate Budget

Seems like a no-brainer, but without a robust budget that you plan to dedicate solely to a firm’s PR efforts, you’re unlikely to gain any solid traction. If you’re still struggling to make essentials like an office space or supplies a priority, think twice before diverting funds to a campaign. There’s a reason for the old adage, “you get what you pay for”, and it definitely applies here.

2) Make Sure You Have True Newsworthy Coverage Opportunities

Few reporters or outlets are going to consider the downtime you spend channeling your energy and focus into growing your business breaking news. In other words, unless you know you have milestones in the pipeline such as product launches, big changes in your staff, etc, paying a PR team could be fruitless. Your company may have tons of heart and a great story behind it, but unless that can be spun into timely ‘news’, it will difficult for even the most well-connected publicist to create a buzz around your business. If the story isn’t there, consider publishing your own blog documenting your progress or engendering personal social media messages in-house for the time being.

3) Make Sure You Know Your Goals, Mission and Messaging

If you don’t know what specific goals or pieces of your business plan you’re looking to accomplish, it can be difficult to help your PR team focus enough to be of any real help. Having a firm understanding of the ways in which you think an effective PR strategy will help bolster your business is the best way to put the horse before the cart. As these discussions commence, be sure that you and your team are clear about what your product does, who your target audience is, what your mission is, and how you want to communicate that in your messaging.

4) Make Sure They Have the Contacts and Experience You Need

Your business is your baby. You live, eat, sleep and breathe it every day. Before you reach out to a PR firm, pour over your existing contacts and consider whether you, or someone outside your industry would have the field experience needed to get specific coverage. This is especially true of niche markets. At least in the beginning stages, it could behoove you to cut out the middleman and act as your company’s ambassador and expert. As knowledge of your brand grows organically, that’s the time you can start thinking about bringing on additional team members who have contacts outside your sphere of influence.

5) Make Sure You’re Ready to Listen and Scale

The point at which you do decide to bring on a dedicated team of PR professionals, be sure you are prepared to take them at their word and listen to their sound advice. Otherwise, you’re paying for an expensive service with no added benefit. You’ll also need to make sure that as they help grow your customer base, that your production models adjusts to keep up with the increased demand. After all, what good is added exposure and more clients if you don’t have the means to serve them?

Ultimately, while it’s a natural progression to hire on outside help to grow your business, doing so at the wrong time, or at least without the proper basics in place is the quickest way to waste vital start up funds. To get the full benefit of a PR firm, make sure you have certain best practices in place to aid your meteoric rise.