Everything you need to know about PR for tech startups which want to start an active, effective and well organized communication
by Andrzej Jędrzejczak, CNO Enterie
PR for tech startups has its own characteristic. It so happens, that tech startups are the biggest client group for Enterie – our PR agency network. We have decided to gather all our experience, as well as daily dilemmas of our clients, to create this ultimate guide to PR for tech startups. We hope you can find answers for all, or most of your questions regarding PR in this text – techniques, activities, prices etc. – and this text will help you to successfully run and develop your communication both in your home countries and on markets where you choose to scale up. And if you need more tailored advice – do not hesitate to contact us!
Planning PR activities
Are you ready for PR activities?
Answer to this question is crucial, and more difficult than it seems to be. Therefore some leading questions might be helpful here:
IS MY BUSINESS STABLE ENOUGH?
Especially at the beginning of its development, startups tend to change their business model, target groups, or even the industry and services they offer. Public relations activities are usually a long run. So it makes no sense to invest in building awareness and reputation for something that can change in a minute?
DO I HAVE RESOURCES TO RUN PR ACTIVITIES?
Even if PR is sometimes called (completely wrongly) a “free advertisement” in fact it always requires time and work. Even if you hire a PR agency, you will need to invest your time in introducing your company and explaining your business. After that you will have to feed your consultants with information, authorize materials and oversee activities. Make sure you have time and/or a manpower.
DO I KNOW WHAT PR GOALS DO I WANT TO ACHIEVE?
If not, maybe you do not need PR services at all? It is very unlikely – all organizations have to communicate with its various stakeholders. It is important to do it deliberately. To define goals, you can use the help of PR agency. But you can also start with this guide.
What are sensible goals of PR activities?
- To build reputation and credibility on the market. Information about your business coming from journalists is always better seen than paid ads
- To educate the market about your services and technologies – especially these innovative ones – as well as needs you help fulfill
- To support sales – without objective information about your new products and services it will be hard to win clients’ trust. However – “to support” does not mean “to drive”
What other goals you can support with PR?
- To build awareness of your brand and offer – especially in market niches served by industry media
- To support your website positioning in search engines, by gaining inbound links from high-worth domains
- To build your expert image in respective field
- To enforce your brand as an employer
- To drive investor attention
When it is better to use other tools than PR?
- To build brand awareness, especially on consumer goods market – even a bunch of articles mentioning your company will not substitute reach advertising campaig
- To drive sales – do not expect media to spontaneously write about your product and encourage readers to purchase. That would be an advertisement, and you have to pay extra for it.
PR for startups – own PR team or PR agency?
How to run your PR activities?
At the beginning each organization has to decide – who, and using what resources will run its communications? Is it worth to build its own PR team? Should it be independent, or rather as a part of marketing division? Is it better to hire in-house specialists or to hire a PR agency? Answers to this question will depend on how important PR is to your firm, and what resources you have.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF HAVING YOUR OWN PR TEAM?
- Costs – an hour of work of an in-house specialist is cheaper than an hour of an outsourced consultant. Under the condition, that you can effectively use the time of your employees
- Proximity – a good knowledge of the company and access to all information and experts can save a lot of time
- Independence – building really personal relations with media, independently of a third party (PR agency)
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF HIRING A PR AGENCY?
- Possibility to use agency’s resources – such as know-how, knowledge and broad contacts of its consultants
- Costs optimization – as in every outsourcing model, you pay for services that you need and when you need them
- Second opinion – a possibility to discuss and validate your ideas with professionals – something which every specialist working alone lacks
A lot of startups and fast-growing companies start with an agency. And this is a very good solution. You can benefit from know-how transfer, use their already developed contacts and still retain costs flexibility. However, at some point you will need someone in-house to coordinate and feed the agency with information. This will help to utilize firms’ communication potential to maximum.
How to choose a PR agency?
Very often the decision is simply based of your business contacts recommendation. And for a start – this is not that bad strategy. But let’s assume you do not have a good recommendation? How to find and hire the best PR agency for your business?
HOW TO ORGANIZE A TENDER FOR A PR AGENCY?
Start with research. Search online, ask your business partners. Pay a special attention to:
- The profile of the agency – is it specialized in technology and/or tech startups? Or does it at least have a specialized tech team?
- Experience of the agency – do/did they work for similar companies, from the same industry or niche? If yes – they will have knowledge of your business environment and media
Prepare a brief – a document which the agency will use to offer you right services:
- Introduce your company
- Describe your goals and expectations
- Provide deadlines and technical details of the tender (more details: below)
Send your brief to selected agencies and confirm their participation in the process.
Have a debriefing – agencies can ask you additional questions. Do answer them. The more information you give, the better proposals you can expect.
Analyze proposals and meet selected agencies
- You can ask them for more detailed presentations, including creative ideas
- Request to meet the team that will work with you – you will work very closely, so chemistry is also important
Make your choice and sign the contract
- Negotiate the scope of work and prices
- After signing the contract – reach out to agencies you did not pick; give them your feedback on their proposal and the reasons for your decision; agencies usually put a lot of work into preparing proposals – a good feedback, which they can learn from, will be a way of saying thank you for effort
HOW TO WRITE A PR BRIEF?
A brief for a PR agency should include:
- Information about your company – what do you do, who found it, what is your market position, who are your competitors, etc.
- Business goals you want to support with communication – building recognition, launching on new market, supporting sales, building brand as an employer or other goals
- Description of the offering – if promotion of products/services is your main goal – describe them: who will use them, what needs do they address, why are they better than other solutions?
- Description of the company – if you are more interested in corporate PR, say something more about your mission and vision, values, size of operations, awards, memberships in industry bodies, etc.
- Desired services – if you already know what services you want to purchase – name it
- Technical details – provide deadlines for submitting proposals and further steps of the tender, describe what should be included in proposals
- The budget – it is always good to give the size of your PR budget – you will get offers fitting better to your needs and possibilities, as well as easier to compare
HOW DETAILED SHOULD YOUR PR BRIEF BE?
The more information you provide, the better proposals you can expect. You may also want to provide additional information about your market and competition, send links, etc. There is really nothing wrong in helping the agency a bit. To assure confidentiality of information – it is good to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) prior to sending a brief.
CAN YOU ASK FOR CREATIVE IDEAS TO BE INCLUDED IN PROPOSAL?
Yes, PR agencies are usually asked to present some creative ideas, to demonstrate creative capabilities. This should be rather be a part of the proposal at the presentation level. Remember that creative ideas are an intellectual property of the agencies. Asking to prepare extended strategies and ideas at the beginning of the process can be seen as a way to get it for free. Many agencies will not join such pitch.
If it happens that you especially like an idea of an agency which you decided not to hire, you can propose to buy the idea, and execute it with a different partner.
HOW MANY PR AGENCIES YOU SHOULD INVITE TO YOUR TENDER?
If you do not have a good grasp of the PR market, you can invite several to make a first selection, but do not ask them to provide you extended proposals. Focus on profile and experiences of the agencies (see: above). A large number of agencies invited to the pitch can discourage some to join it.
For the next phase select 3-4 agencies – the ones you want to meet.
WHAT YOU SHOULD CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING PR AGENCY?
- Experience of the agency – this is probably the most important factor. If the agency has been working/works for clients from your industry, similar organizations to yours, you can assume that it knows your business environment and media. It is good to ask how long did the agency work for those clients, what was the task and the scope of work.
- The team – it is important to make sure if the agency have right people on board (also senior consultants) and who will actually work for your company. Except “your” account managers experience (most important), it is also good to check if there is the “right chemistry” between you and them. You will work on daily basis with these people, so it is good to like each other.
- Staff turnover – if consultants stay with the agency for several years – it is a very good sign. First, you don’t want to have new account managers every half a year. Second – it means that they are happy with their work. And happy people work better.
IS IT BETTER TO HIRE A SMALL OR A BIG PR AGENCY?
- Big, international PR agencies are usually more expensive (but not always). For higher fee you buy access to international know-how, and a larger team when needed. For corporate managers it is sometimes important to pick a big brand agency – this is a choice that no one will question. For startups it usually doesn’t matter.
- Smaller PR agency will probably have more reasonable fees – also thanks to lower cost, savings on fancy headquarters and shareholders profits. As a startup with a limited budget you will be a more important client for a smaller shop than for a big players chasing big budgets. Which means the agency will simply try harder to keep you happy.
PR activities for startups
If you know what goals you want to achieve with PR activities, but you don’t know how – read this section. If you decide to hire a PR agency – they will surely propose you a set of activities. Still, it is good to have some basic knowledge of what can work best.
WHAT YOU NEED, AND WHAT WILL WORK?
If your company is a startup just beginning to consciously communicate with its stakeholders, you should start with basic documents and infrastructure:
- Developing communication strategy – this will be a base to plan your activities, it should define your communication goals, target groups and key messages
- Developing communication plan – which is a set of activities based in time, with allocated budget and other resources
- Preparing/collecting a press pack, including descriptions of your company and products or services, logos and other graphic materials, photos and bios of your founders and experts
- Setting up your press office – listing media important for your business, identifying key journalists and collecting contact details
- Setting up tools which you will use in your work, such as virtual press office or a platform to monitor your media presence
Next you should introduce your company (and yourself) to the media. How?
- Issuing press releases about new developments, new services and products
- Offering interviews with founders
- Meeting journalists 1:1, inviting for a coffee or lunch to start relations
- Inspiring journalists to write about your company in a broader context interesting for media and readers
First publications and mentions about your company will gain you some credibility. Later, you can fight for larger visibility, start to shape your image and awareness of your brand and offer. These activities can be useful:
- Press releases about new products and services (if really innovative)
- Press releases about new clients (if they are known brands)
- Positioning your representatives as industry experts
- Commenting on current market developments
- Creating and publishing consumer and market reports
- Offering exclusive texts and other content to key media
- Other creative activities to interact with your audience and media
WHAT PR ACTIVITIES WILL NOT WORK?
Certain activities, even if they sound as a good idea, may not be suited for you. You should carefully consider:
- Press releases about personal changes. Such things as promotions are being covered only in case of well-known brands. In case of a startup it is very unlikely
- Press releases about minor changes in your products, new features at your web platform, etc. If it is not really innovative or game changing – the chance that media will pick it up is very little
- Press conferences – again, if you are not a big brand which is influencing the whole market, or you have nothing really important to communicate – better drop this idea. Journalists are more and more busy, there is a risk that no one will show up.
Prices of PR services for startups
BASIC TERMS AND CALCULATION OF PRICES OF PR ACTIVITIES FOR STARTUPS
To spend your money effectively and not to overpay for PR services, it is good to know how the prices are calculated. It will be easier to compare offers of PR agencies.
- Scope of Work (SOW) – this is the base for every calculation. SOW is a list of activities, usually monthly, which PR agency is obliged to run for you. The agency estimates time necessary to execute, mostly in hours, and hourly rates.
- Hourly rates – this is a second factor of the calculation. PR agencies can use diverse hourly rates, depending on qualifications needed to execute particular task. Hours spent on developing strategy will be more expensive than these spend on reporting. Sometimes, for a sake of simplicity, one average rate is being used.
- Retainer – is a type of a long term agreement, when agency assigns a team to run communication on behalf of a client, always defining scope of work, in exchange for a defined fee. It is usually signed for a year. Long term agreements are healthy for PR agencies – predictable and enabling to plan the budget and employment of the agency. Therefore, activities under retainer agreement are relatively cheaper than these included in one-time projects.
- Projects – this form of cooperation is less popular, as PR (building relations!) is usually a long run. However, in case of startups, it sometimes starts with a project as a kind of a trial period. Projects are relatively more expensive than the same activities under a retainer agreement. Agency has to cover the time of “learning” the client, planning, setting up a press office, etc. Higher price also mitigates the business risk (of hiring consultants and other related costs).
- External costs – all expenses needed to execute activities, excluding costs of consultants work. It is good to keep these two categories clearly separated, so you are sure that none of them are exaggerated.
Read also: Prices of PR services – a guide for startups
EXEMPLARY PRICES OF PR ACTIVITIES FOR STARTUPS IN EUROPE
Costs of PR activities will differ depending on the scope of work and the country. To give you a general idea, please, see the estimation provided by agencies associated in Enterie PR network.
PR hourly rates, projects and retainer fees in Enterie
*Launch pack – a 3 months entry project for startups launching on new market, covering:
- strategy and messaging development,
- preparing and distributing launch press release
- organizing 1-2 interviews,
- writing and offering 2 byline articles to media,
- monitoring and reporting.
**Mothly basic services – within a longer agreement, covering (monthly):
- running a local press office,
- handling media requests, answering questions,
- media monitoring,
- maintaining and updating tailored media list,
- writing and distributing 1 press release,
- writing and pitching 2 articles,
- seeking speaking opportunities: preparing statements commenting on the market,
- developments, when appropriate,
- ongoing advisory.
Management of PR in organization
You have your PR strategy in place. You have your plan of activities ready, and an agency with defined SOW to support you. It is time to start to manage your communication activities. How to do that?
PR Manager – even if you decided to outsource PR activities to a PR agency, you will have to invest some time in coordination. Especially at the beginning, when the agency needs to learn about your business. Therefore, you need someone who will be a contact point and who will coordinate activities – feed the agency with information, accept materials, work on plans, budgets and strategies. In case of startups this role is assigned to the head of marketing. At some point you may think of appointing a PR manager.
Reporting – it is good to have regular reports of activities (what has the agency executed) and results (most often – publications and media mentions, but also various statistics for web traffic or social media engagement). First – you need them to track progress, to evaluate and modify your actions and spendings. Second – it always prods the agency to work better. However – do not order detailed reports if you have no time to analyze them. Remember that you are charged by the hour of work.
Regular evaluation – even if you communicate with your consultants on daily basis, it makes sense to have regular evaluation/planning meetings. Especially at the beginning of the cooperation. Go together through the status report, discuss current issues. It will give you the sense of control and you will be sure that the agency goes in the right direction, according to your expectations.
Measurements in PR – this is a broad and complex issue. Times of infamous AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent) are gone. Except its many disadvantages, in the digital era AVE doesn’t make much sense. In general, measurements should depend on goals you want to achieve. If you need to gain credibility – you should focus on the quality of earned publications, the number of mentions will be less important. If you want to build broader awareness – then focus more on the reach of media.
Most of online businesses are focusing on hard, quantitative indicators of traffic on their web platforms. In terms of generating traffic, there are better means than PR. However, backlinks earned by an article in a well-positioned media can have a significant contribution in positioning your www outlets in search engines.
PR support when entering a new market
HOW A PR AGENCY CAN BE HELPFUL TO STARTUPS SCALING UP ABROAD?
Tech companies, focused on building reach and conversion, often underestimate the role of PR when entering foreign markets. It is true, that PR will not drive sales (even if it can support it). But it is necessary to build trust for a new brand. A local PR agency can be helpful in several ways.
Communication advisory – although European markets are more and more similar, still, knowledge of local specifics, cultures and contexts can decide on failure or success. PR agency will help you develop a local strategic approach, key messages and tone of voice, as well as to identify right touchpoints and media tailored for the local audience.
Eyes and ears on the market – local PR agencies constantly monitor markets of their specialization, follow developments, industry media and news. When we do not have our own office on the spot, a PR agency can be a great source of information.
Contracting (and controlling) contractors – local PR specialists, having good knowledge of their own market, can be very helpful to find you other Partners and providers. Especially these from marketing industry – interactive agencies, advertising agencies, media houses, etc. It is always good to have someone with local insight evaluate their proposal.
Trust, trust, trust! – As mentioned, in case of a new player on the market, especially a foreign one, gaining credibility is the very first communication goal. Therefore being such a company you should cover two things:
- Localization of your communications – all the materials you use should be prepared in a local language, native level. Just think of your own reactions to all these mailings translated by google translator…
- Even basic presence in high profile media will serve as a sort of certificate of your credibility, a signal that someone has checked your business and you are trustworthy.
Local representative – having someone who can speak on your behalf, who knows about your product and the local market is crucial to build good (or rather any) relations with media. And if you don’t have such person on the spot, a PR consultant can play this role.
WHAT PR ACTIVITIES SHOULD YOU CONSIDER WHEN ENTERING NEW MARKETS?
Entering a foreign country with your business is a bit similar to launching a new company/product/service on your own market. However, there are a few things you should pay a special attention to. What should you do then?
FIRST 3 MONTHS ACTIVITIES
Development of a communications strategy for respective market. Copy-paste of your communication strategy from your home market is probably not the best idea, but it can be a decent start for localization. It at least has to be adjusted to local culture, environment, media contexts, as well as to activities and positioning of your competitors. What is convincing to Germans, does not necessarily have to work in France.
Verification and localization – especially in terms of language, but also creation of local testimonials and materials corresponding with local context and market data. Don’t forget to use local examples and… pictures. Especially of people, so they do not look like taken from a free stock site.
Introduction to the market – depending on your profile and the specifics of your offer, you may do it by:
- Issuing a press release about your launch
- Organizing an interview (an interesting angle is necessary)
- Pitching an exclusive text about your service/product/market in an interesting context of needs and problems it addresses
- starting cooperation with influencers and opinion leaders
FURTHER PR ACTIVITIES – WHAT TO DO NEXT
Once media are familiar with you and your offer, it is time to keep up the visibility. Again, the scope of activities and tools might be similar to the ones you use on your home market – pitching stories, issuing press releases, positioning experts. still, you should remember two things:
Bragging about local success – such as new clients, implementations etc. This is very important, especially in b2b sector. Let your potential clients know that other companies have verified your offer, chose you as a partner and that they are happy with it. It will assure prospective clients that you are a good/safe choice for them.
Local case studies – the purpose of developing a local case study or gaining local testimonials is similar as above. But it has far stronger impact. Such testimonials and stories are a great argument and sales support. Should be used in media, but also by your sales force.
COORDINATING PR ACTIVITIES ON SEVERAL MARKETS
Having in mind localization, do not forget about coherence of your communication efforts. Also, coordination of activities and production of universal materials for several markets can bring you significant savings in money and time. How to organize and manage communication on several markets?
Each market has to have a representative – a local employee or an agency consultant who can talk to the media, knows the language and the market
A company should have a communications manager – a central role to plan, manage and serve as a contact point for local representatives and agencies
A leading PR agency can be a help for communications manager in coordinating activities and rolling out communications plans on local markets. It is an additional cost, but saves time and work, as well as enables to focus on strategy instead of operational tasks
Own communication team and own coordination is usually a choice of smaller (or rather younger) organizations. In such arrangement an in-house PR/marketing manager communicates and coordinates several agencies by him/herself. In case of limited scope it is usually a good solution, which allows to save some money (on expense of own time and work).
However, it is often not the case of the size of SOW but the attitude of startups, when founder feels responsible for everything and still learns to delegate work. (I call it “we do it better” attitude). Letting go and putting more trust in internal and external partners is both challenging and unavoidable. At some point it simply pays off to outsource certain services.