How to Choose a Public Relations Agency That’s Best for You

Updated February 2024 – If you’re not familiar with the public relations environment then Startup PR can be challenging and intimidating. Oftentimes to avoid extra cost you may think you can do it yourself. Here’s a secret: You CAN do it yourself! The problem is knowing what to do and having the time to follow up, which is…you guessed it, practically a full time job (those PR Newswire press releases don’t publish themselves!). However, if you are in a position where you can get some help here are some options for a startup with a limited budget that should help answer how to choose a public relations agency that’s best for you.

In-House Public Relations

Pros: Having someone as a part of the team, on call and fully integrated into the team.

Cons: Single opinion/voice for the brand, costly, the more experience the more cost.

Considerations: Make sure they have agency experience, experience in social media and strategy experience. You want to hire someone that has managed clients before. Going with an intern or a junior candidate may be more costly in the end. Grab someone seasoned if you can help it and they may be able to do the work of more than one person if they have that entrepreneurial startup spirit.

PR Freelancers

Pros: With freelancers you have much more flexibility in price and time. A good freelancer should have at least 3-5 years of PR experience doing PR in an area similar to yours. Doing PR for a shoe company is very different compared to doing PR for a software company, unless you’re Zappos. These freelancers can start at $15/hour and go up to about $65/hour. I would find someone that can give you examples in your line of business and go with the freelancer that best fits your needs and industry.

Cons: You get many younger candidates may that not have the experience that you really need to do a good job and won’t be able to advise strategy, there is a risk with freelancers if you do not check references. Be more discerning with this option. You may also need to set some reporting rules, so know what you want before your hire. My experience with freelancers has been that you often need to manage closely and check in often.

Considerations: Having agency experience is a big plus, always ask to see previous work and media results and absolutely check for references. Personal references of course are always best.

*I’ve heard of many people getting burned on Elance, you may want to post on LinkedIn or Indeed to get the best results.

Smaller or Boutique Agencies

Pros: Having multiple resources for lower cost, having the experience you need regarding strategy, typically having a team of people rather than a single person, generally quick ramp up/on-boarding time, can be extremely cost-effective for your startup.

Cons: May be more than you can afford, depending on what you need. Generally start at about $4000 – up. Difficulty in choosing the right agency, there are several cross over agencies, having to manage outside resources.

Considerations: Look for an agency with experience in your area or around your area of service. A lifestyle agency and tech agency will have different contacts. It’s best to find an agency where you feel that they get your style and direction. That is almost more important than their contacts. A good PR agency can penetrate any vertical market. Look for an agency that has an integrated approach and can manage many roles for your (ie social media, marketing and PR) campaign. Ask for specific ideas of strategies and projects they can execute for you.

Big Agencies

Pros: Have great amount of resources and media relations, have experienced PR pros across many markets, can generally manage several aspects of the business including social media and marketing, sometimes advertising

Cons: Expensive. Generally start at about $10,000 – up, managing outside agency direction, turnover time for projects/resources can be longer, corporate procedures, be careful about hidden fees and add-ons

Considerations: If you’re ready to go for a big agency, make sure that you are prepared with a large budget. Often big agencies will present with their big hitters while having junior account members working on the account (bait and switch), make sure you have the time and resources to closely manage your agency to reach your goals. Request that you have access to members of the team so you can see who is doing what. Be sure that your contracts are all-encompassing and always check the areas of expertise and ask for case studies. I wouldn’t say a big agency is the best option for startups, but if you want to make a big bang, you may get your money’s worth.

The Takeaway – How To Choose a Public Relations Agency That’s Best For You

My recommendation is typically freelancers (not interns) or small agencies for startups, but everyone has their preferences and your comfort level is really important. It also depends on if you have a level of understanding of PR or not. Make yourself familiar with expectations and speak to other people that like their PR strategies and can see how important it is. Speaking to someone that hasn’t had great experiences is a biased view of what PR should be. I hope this helps you make the next step in your branding and PR journey for your startup!

If you aren’t sure how to choose the public relations agency that’s best for you, the experts at The Silver Telegram are happy to schedule a complimentary call to help point you in the right direction. We also recommend checking out one of our most popular articles that details what to expect when working with a PR agency.