7 Questions Startups Should Ask Before Hiring a PR Firm

Rebecca Joyner by

Your startup is prepared and ready to hire a PR agency to help you (insert big audacious company goal here). Now the challenge is to find an agency that can deliver results and fit your budget and working style. Instead of sending out a request for proposal to potential candidates, tap your network and ask for a handful of recommendations based on your criteria. There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to successful communications, so to help you select the best partner for your startup, ask and discuss these seven questions before you sign on the dotted line.

1. Will the agency’s experience help you meet your business goals?

Whether your plan is to go after your next round of funding, get acquired or go public, ensure the agency you are considering has deep experience in supporting companies with similar strategic goals. It’s important to ask for specific case studies and results, but it’s also valuable to learn how the agency formed the strategies to help those case study clients achieve their goals.

2. Who are the agency’s current clients and how does its team help those companies?

You will want to know more about the agency’s current client roster, including how long they’ve worked with those clients, the size of the businesses and the reporting structures. You want to hire a partner, not a budget line item, so make sure the agency has experience scaling and evolving with the companies it supports.

3. Who is the agency’s team and what are their roles?

Don’t get blasted by the bait and switch. Ask to meet with the team that will support your account and find out how each member will contribute to your program. Comfortability with your team is key, but you also need to make sure you can respect and value their opinions when they push back on your ideas or suggestions.

4. Do the agency’s core values mirror your company’s?

Core values say a lot about the integrity and makeup of a business and its employees. Ask the agency team members how they live out their core values every day and how it translates into the work you will do together.

5. How does the agency collaborate with your team?

The agency should mirror your team’s working style and collaboration preferences – Skype, Google Hangouts, eMail, Slack or whatever your vice may be. Ask the team to give you examples of how they proactively provide their clients with strategic recommendations. As a startup, it’s important you hire an agency that has experience driving the strategy and pushing your internal marketing team to do better work daily. You should also learn more about how the agency conducts brainstorms and presents ideas to its clients.

6. What will the agency report?

Before you start a relationship with an agency, make sure you understand the weekly, monthly and quarterly deliverables, and the reporting structure. You should never chase your agency down for feedback or results. The team should report to you in your preferred format and timeline depending on how you need to measure results internally. Most agencies set up weekly status calls with their clients to discuss both high-level and tactical items, but ask how often the agency is willing to conduct more strategic planning meetings and brainstorms with your marketing team. As with many startups, plans change and your company must pivot quickly, so find out how the agency will change its deliverables and KPIs to match your priorities.

7. Does the agency offer creative and reasonable ideas?

Throughout the pitching process, you will hear a lot of ideas. So, make sure you learn about the specific campaigns the agency wants to deploy for your company and ask why. Ask about the strategy execution, timeline, your team’s requirements and intended results. While agency creativity is key, it’s important to make sure the ideas are reasonable and align with your company’s goals.

Chemistry is one of the most important characteristics to consider when hiring a communications partner. You need a team that isn’t afraid to be transparent, to push you and to keep your expectations in check. If you feel good about the chemistry and the agency’s answers to the questions above, request to speak with at least three references. Ask the references the same questions to see how the responses align.

Do you already have a communications agency? These are the nine telling signs you hired the wrong one.

Vice President, Content Strategy

  • One of the most important questions to ask is, “Are we ready for a PR?” Startups often fail to ask this question, jump headlong into a PR engagement and then find out that the PR agency is literally helpless because there’s no customer story for them to push. If a journalist (or blogger) is going to write about you, you have to have customers willing to talk about their successes as a direct result of your products and services. Sure, there are other stories about your funding rounds and channel partner wins, but the real stuff you’re looking for isn’t going to happen with out customers.

    • Rebecca Joyner

      “Are we ready” is definitely a key question, although the answer isn’t always, “We have customers, so YES.” If you’re looking to seed the market at the pre-launch stage, the answer might be more about thought leadership, culture stories and a team with the bandwidth to support integrated communications programs. Beyond that, this is where No. 7 comes in. Creative problem solving is important, and it’s easier when media relations is one of several tools you use to build influence.