Three things you need to know about telling your startup story

In this age of innovation, with opportunities through Kickstarter and Shark Tank and any number of other entrepreneurial venues, great ideas are everywhere. But great ideas won’t get you very far if people don’t know about them. You can run your startup with press releases written by the one guy in your office who got an A in composition, and let the CEO figure out how to post it to social media. You can also hire a big PR agency and pay $400 an hour for face time with an executive, only to have most of your work performed by a recent college grad. Neither of those seems like the right fit for a lot of startups and small companies, and it’s an argument that has both sides swinging, like this guy who says you’re wasting your money if you hire an agency or this one who says the ROI is worth it.

We’re getting into the middle and mixing it up by saying they’re both right, and they’re both wrong.

Put your money where your people are.

Startups rely on the team approach — every job is everyone’s job — but there are times when you need expertise, specialization and an outside perspective. Before long, nearly all small companies and startups realize they need a strategic communications agency, and they need to budget for it. Shopping by reputation or price alone won’t necessarily get you what you need. Like anything, you need the right partner. If you’re a scrappy startup with a revolutionary idea, you’re not going to find your match with a huge, traditional agency. If you’re in tech, engineering, science or medicine, you’ll want an agency that operates in those worlds. You need to find your people. A PR team made up of people who get you, love what you’re doing, and will help you build your business are key. That lets you focus on changing the world.

Technology is awesome. It does not make everyone a communications expert.

Anyone with an iPhone and spellcheck can do a press release and create a video. Just like anyone with an idea and an internet connection can start a company. But there’s a good chance the inexperienced do-it-yourself approach won’t let you hit your potential. PR is more than just press releases. (In fact, they matter less and less.) It’s about starting out with a strategic vision, developing and deploying messaging, creating content, implementing social media, and knowing when to use blogs vs. op-eds vs. viral videos vs. mobile marketing. It’s your brand’s reputation. It’s your total public image. So while someone in your company probably can do some of it, they probably shouldn’t.

Pick your team.

Expertise comes at a price, but there’s more than just looking at the first number you see on a proposal. This blog suggests it’s better to hire an out-of-work journalist to do your PR for $80,000 than hiring a PR agency at $12,000 a month. That’s short-sighted. Great, experienced journalists with the talent to give you thoughtful product that targets and hits the right audience aren’t going to come work for you as a one-person PR shop for $80k. (And you’ll spend more than $80k anyway — because, benefits.) And going the just-hire-a-journalist route just gets you one person, with one idea, one skill set, one point of view. They also take vacation, and sick days — and if a big opportunity comes in the day your one-person shop is closed, you’re out of luck.

An agency, even a small one, is a team — YOUR team — using its collective expertise to create work that works for you. They also likely have the skills or network to handle everything you need. Finding one person, or even several, who can cover all the bases from written communications to video production to media outreach is a tall order. You’ll have to decide whether an in-house team or an agency is best for you, but when you look at the financials, make sure you’re counting all the costs.

The real bottom line

Consider what your reputation is worth, set a realistic budget, shop around for people who really get you, and whether you hire-in or hire-out, know that if you find “your people” they will help you tell your story and change the world.

Katherine Brennecke is an Atlanta–based public relations advisor to Fortune 100 companies and a former broadcast news executive. As part of The Mathews Group, Katherine believes that no matter your profession or industry, your value is judged by the way you communicate your work. We’re communicators. We think you can be, too.
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