Tech companies at all stages of growth need a solid public relations strategy, but PR for startups is arguably the most complicated. It’s not just because startups don’t have the escalating buzz of a scale-up, or the established resources of an enterprise.

It’s also because many startups, particularly in their value-creation phases, have a lot to prove, including to the press. Put yourself in a reporter’s shoes. A startup pitches you a product launch or funding announcement, but you can tell the startup is still hunting product-market fit. You’d understandably have some reservations.

But no matter how long finding that product-market fit takes, you’ll eventually need publicity to reach new audiences and spark growth. And there’s good news. When you’re ready to talk PR for startups, there are really only two choices: invest in a PR agency or hire someone in-house. Picking the right one comes down to two questions:

  • How much will in-house PR (staff, tools, software) cost you versus an agency?
  • How much time do you have to invest in an agency relationship?

Let’s break these down into more specific detail.

In-house PR for Startups: Pros, Cons, and Costs  

There’s tremendous potential in building your own PR operation. You’d develop a team with a deep understanding of your product and market. And because everything is internal, you could move quickly on publicity opportunities, and build personal relationships with reporters. Two great things for getting press.

But there’s a downside. The time and money needed make this an unrealistic option for many startups. Just like a modern sales team needs software like a CRM, PR comes with its own list of tools required for success. At the minimum, you’d need a:

  • PR professional who knows your industry in great detail.
  • Media database (such as Cision) for your PR pro to find outlets and reporters.
  • Media monitoring tool for your PR pro to track press mentions.

That’s a lot of time and money to spend up front. Also, tactical-level PR hires usually don’t bring experience in your specific industry. John may be a whiz at media relations, but what if he last worked in healthcare tech and you’re cloud security? He can offer no knowledge of your market, customers, or competitors. He’d have to learn it.

And like any high-quality tech tools, the media database and monitoring software John would need come at a price. (Google is not a substitute for either, especially for tracking mentions in small but mighty trade publications.) Now add those costs to the salary and benefits package to understand the total expense of an internal hire.

Partnering With an Agency: Pros, Cons, and Costs

An agency specialized in PR for startups combines the value of tactical publication relations expertise and industry experience. That delivers lots of potential value:

  • Strategic counsel on things like messaging and marketing investments, based on working with other clients facing similar challenges.
  • A sharpened competitive edge through years of related experience, competitive research, and ongoing real-time industry monitoring.
  • Network expansion from playing in the agency’s sandbox, which is full of potential customers, partners, talent, and vendors.

The catch? A few things, starting with cost. Agency pricing varies greatly depending on the level of service, size of the agency, and location. Looking at PR companies for startups on the coasts? You can bet that most won’t even to begin to work with you for less than $10,000 per month. True, many single-person “agencies” fall well under that. But if you go that route, carefully consider that one-person agency’s bandwidth. You may get more one-on-one attention, but the level of service will be significantly affected by how many clients are on their roster.

Another thing to consider, especially when you’re a tech startup: Many agencies don’t understand the nuances of how to do PR for a startup versus a scale-up or enterprise. Finding true startup PR firms who can help you earn media coverage is difficult. B2B SaaS companies have a particularly tough time.

More on PR for Tech Startups: How Much Time Can You Invest?

Investing in an agency is like any other partnership. The time you put into the relationship is what you will get out of it. However, onboarding with an agency is very important and requires time upfront in addition to throughout the relationship. Kickoff meetings, story-mining sessions (where agencies uncover the unique angles of your company or product), and product demos are all things that need to be done early in the agency relationship.

After that initial heavy lifting is done, don’t expect a set-it-and-forget-it relationship. An agency works most effectively for you when treated as an extension of your business, not as a standalone vendor. So keep your agency informed on business direction, messaging shifts, perspective on industry news, and customer wins. Relaying that information on weekly calls is probably the most effective to set up success.


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These articles have been curated by our friends at BLASTmedia, a national PR agency focusing on media relations for B2B technology companies.