At the startup phase, every funding dollar counts. To get the greatest bang for the buck, startups and prospective tech PR agencies alike must undergo a careful and thoughtful compatibility test before signing an engagement contract. Like any relationship, the vetting stage is the trickiest to navigate before committing. As the tech and PR landscapes have evolved over the last several years, so have the misconceptions about what makes a stellar PR partner. When in courtship with a new tech PR agency, be sure to avoid these seven mistakes:
1. Proximity is better
Technology born during the pandemic days, then improved in recent aftermath years, makes it possible to achieve good work without ever physically meeting someone. Today, tech solutions transcend a particular location and instead appeal to a national or global audience. The physical proximity of a tech PR firm to the startup office is less significant that it has been in the past. Therefore, choosing a hometown agency versus one that operates virtually comes down to personal preference. Consider questions such as how much does the startup value in-person meetings? How often do in-person meetings need to take place?
If in-person meetings are inessential, consider the location of the tech PR firm based on its proximity to major tech hubs and the quality of its relationships in those areas. Tech hubs such as Austin, or the Bay Area, typically offer a thriving ecosystem of industry connections and closer proximity to tech titans than cities less known for their tech influence. If the startup is located in one of these booming locations by chance, then occasional in-person meetings come as a bonus.
2. Vertical PR Agencies vs. Generalists
For tech startups, it’s common to focus on solidifying brand image in one vertical of business before branching out into others. From a media perspective, developing solid relationships with industry reporters and trade publications will help solidify a startup’s brand within the relevant desired niche. However, before selecting a tech PR agency specializing in that vertical, consider your startup’s long-term goals. If there is a chance that your startup will want to expand into other verticals down the road, then you may consider committing to a tech PR agency that has a broader portfolio of successes.
At Swyft, one common misconception we often hear from marketing professionals in startups is the assumption that a niche PR firm was their only choice. Instead of considering how focused the PR firm is on your specific vertical, look at the media wins they have for various clients across various industries. Having wins across multiple verticals is a signal that the PR firm relies on effective media strategies such as creative and timely hooks, rather than industry media connections. Further, consulting with a tech PR agency that is less ingrained in the industry can help bring a fresh perspective to the media landscape that may be overlooked otherwise.
3. Higher retainer firms deliver better ROI
When vetting a new tech PR agency, startup decision-makers will often view the size of the agency’s retainer as an indication of performance ability. Much like shopping for cars or other major purchases, a heavy price tag does not always equate to excellent service quality. In areas like New York City or the Bay Area, where tech competition is steep and the cost of living is high, PR agencies will frequently drive up the retainer prices to accommodate. When shopping for a new tech PR agency, consider looking in areas where the cost of living is lower and agencies can afford to operate at a reduced price. The retainer will be more appealing to your bank account without sacrificing the service quality. This will ensure you manage your risk while increasing the prospect of a higher-than-expected ROI from your investment in PR. (See our tech PR value matrix here.)
4. Need to Use RFPs
While standard for large enterprises, try to refrain from using a request for proposal (RFP) when looking for a tech PR agency, especially at the startup stage. RFPs typically attract high-dollar agencies equipped with a large sales team that have the resources to respond to the complex requirements of an RFP. Therefore, using an RFP may drive out smaller agencies that offer equal or greater value and not the dedicated sales staff to handle the request. In turn, a startup that uses an RFP risks paying more than they would have with a smaller agency which offered the same value at a more competitive cost. Further, a smaller and leaner agency will provide more flexibility, an important attribute to consider at this phase.
5. Top news outlets on speed dial
Having good relationships with reporters is a cornerstone of quality PR work. However, a red flag should be raised when a tech PR agency is leaning too heavily on its relationships to sell its ability to gain quality coverage. Reporters are looking for stories with unique perspective, that speak to a larger trend in the industry. While an established relationship is a plus, it’s not a guarantee for coverage. A well-thought-out pitching strategy and an agency’s ability to pitch creative news hooks have a far greater impact on the quality of coverage gained than the number of reporters on “speed dial.” There is still something to be said about a tech PR agency’s ability to form strong and long-lasting bonds with media and industry influencers, though it should not be the sole indicator of an agency’s success.
6. Pitching 100s of journalists
If a prospective tech PR agency promises to share an upcoming news announcement with hundreds of journalists, proceed with caution. Appealing in theory, the mass pitching strategy, dubbed the “spray-and-pray” method, relies less on skills and engaging pitch angles and more on luck. Further, a mass pitch strategy often yields interest from low-impact news outlets with a low audience reach, typically indicating the agency is spending less time tailoring each pitch to the reporter. If wanting quality coverage, then spending the required time to vet reporters and personalize outreach to the reporter’s beat is a must. If an agency claims it is achieving quality coverage with mass pitching, it is probably too good to be true.
7. Larger team means more media coverage
Be careful not to mistake a large media team for more media coverage. More often than not, an overstaffed account will go over budget more frequently and have a harder time establishing quality relationships with reporters, resulting in less coverage over time. Further, with too many people on an account, team members can get siloed into tasks. When another task needs to be covered, the siloed team members have to spend more time ramping up on the new task, which could be a waste of precious resources. Smaller, leaner teams are just as capable of meeting performance goals and are less likely to be siloed into specific tasks. The tech PR agencies that promise to put more people on the account than needed in order to win business will have difficulty performing. Overstaffing an account also puts the internal environment of that team at risk which could lead to lower quality work.
The key to a successful tech PR agency search: don’t skimp on the due diligence. Doing the work to find the perfect match may not be the most exciting task, but in the end, the work will pay off and you’ll be left with a partner who understands your vision and will deliver great results.
For information on how Swyft can help your startup achieve its ambitious growth goals, contact our tech PR experts today!
[Photo by jeshoots on Unsplash]