When you’re shopping for something you don’t know much about, whether that’s tequila or drain cleaner, it’s tempting to go with the biggest and priciest brand. If it’s so expensive, it has to be good, right? That’s the unfortunate trap that many tech startups fall into when they’re looking for professional PR. 

Opting for a large international tech PR agency is likely the wrong move for a startup. Just as many tech startups are disrupting other industries, there is an abundance of more agile tech PR firms that are undermining the long-time dominance of major international PR agencies. 

Here are a few big reasons why things are changing. 

Specialization sells

Companies are looking for PR agencies that are experienced in their vertical and understand the customers they’re trying to reach. Tech startups need a tech PR agency that is familiar with the unique challenges tech startups face. In contrast to a major general services PR agency, a tech PR agency knows what the tech industry press is looking for and the types of pitches that will get their tech startup clients favorable coverage in the highest-impact outlets that customers, investors and other important constituencies are paying attention to. 

The value of agility 

Tech startups seek partners that are just as flexible and agile as they are. Large PR firms tend to operate within a rigid structure: long-term commitments, a strict chain of command and above all else, a deep aversion to risk. For a tech startup that is looking to move fast and make a splash, a legacy PR firm is a bad fit because it will move too slowly and be resistant to unconventional PR strategies. A smaller tech PR firm that specializes in startups is far more likely to try out new things and align their messaging with the culture of their tech startup client. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend, as the initial economic shock forced many tech startups to figure out how to do more with less. 

Law of diminishing ROI

Some tech startups fall into the trap of thinking that if you hire an expensive agency they will get the best results and highest ROI. The fact is many large agencies rarely meet the ROI targets they claim they can achieve. Their higher fee structure often results in a far higher cost per acquired media placement. A smaller tech PR agency focused on startups often yields a much greater cost per acquisition ratio given their deep expertise in tech and equally deep connections into tech media verticals. That’s also because their fees are usually far more friendly on the startup budget than large agencies.

Divided attention –– at best 

Big firms often reserve their top talent for the biggest clients, while smaller clients, including tech startups, get stuck with junior-level staff who are tasked with executing a boilerplate PR campaign that is unlikely to reflect the unique characteristics of each client. A tech startup that seeks customized care would be better off with a small, agile tech PR firm that will put the entire weight of its operation –– including senior leaders –– behind each client, no matter how small. 

The in-house allure

Big PR firms generally become big because of their success in attracting big clients: Fortune 500 corporations, major nonprofits, large government agencies. Increasingly, however, large organizations with big PR budgets are opting to simply hire their own in-house PR team. The reasoning is simple: if you’re going to spend a lot of money on PR, why not spend it on people who are only accountable to you and will spend every working hour focused on your brand? So what becomes of the major PR firms? They either adapt by slimming down, lowering their fees and reorienting their business to smaller clients or they are left with a business model that will struggle to succeed. 

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