Why Your Startup Doesn’t Need A PR Agency

Once upon a time Public Relations agencies held all the cards. The extended network of powerful and influential people. The talented writers who knew how to craft a winning press release. The amazing creatives who thought up stunts to wow the world. They were the gatekeepers to a glittering yet mysterious world of wizards in suits who could make your business happen.

And then the internet happened.

The advent of social media destroyed much of these gatekeepers to the gatekeepers’ power, because in this new online world anyone – if motivated enough, could contact celebrities, editors and journalists directly. All it took was a bit of nous and a good story.

The rise of digital media channels and new technologies have changed the game. PR and journalism have had their business models seriously challenged.

Anyone can build an online news site to rival the bigger more traditional mainstream media outlets. Anyone can pitch a piece to a journalist online. And there are numerous opportunities for well-known media people to branch out on their own. In fact, it’s surprising how few have done this (but that’s a story for another time!)

Ditto with PR. Brands can get their story covered using hashtags such as #journorequests or outreach services such as ResponseSource. But again, it is surprising how few business owners try to do this on their own considering it’s more accessible than ever before.

Maybe this is due to a lack of confidence. Building a scalable service or product can take a specific skillset and entrepreneurs can be under the impression that PR is out of their circle of competence. This is why it’s not uncommon for them to invest thousands in PR agencies using the retainer model, only to discover that the financial outlay hasn’t been worth it in terms of the amount and even type of coverage they get.

PR Must Change To Survive

The PR industry struggles when it comes to showing how a headline turns into qualified leads. Building brand awareness through the right media placement is definitely an advantage, but not always the easiest tactic to measure or the best way to spend money during a startup’s early stages.

The inevitable rise of AI technology also shifts the balance away from PR agencies. In the near future, AI is going to be able to replicate many of the tasks covered under typical retainers – the recent release of GTP-3 has demonstrated this. And if there’s anything we’ve learnt over the last couple of decades, it’s that where companies can outsource, they will.

In many ways this is a good thing. Concept development, translating ideas into words creativity is the best part of working in the industry. PR is about more than just a press release and yet this seems to have been forgotten somewhere along the line.

And rather than shrink away from new tools and technologies, the tough questions need to be asked. How can PR leverage them to offer better value for money? While the more famous agencies have always embraced creativity, too many smaller agencies still rely on the old retainer model. But by using data insights to make better decisions, the industry can shift towards more of a consulting model, a hybrid of data-driven decisions and unique, creative thinking that can’t be outsourced.

Media Coverage Without An Agency

The ironic thing is that business owners are usually best placed to tell their stories during the early stages because they have been the ones to build their service or product up from scratch. No one knows what they’re talking about better than them.

At the early stages many companies want to grow but are still testing and investing in product market fit. PR and marketing budgets aren’t a priority, but at the same time can be a great way to get more feedback on their product.

The good news is that you or someone on your team can learn how to do this. Pitching to the media is a useful skill to have and as long as you learn the fundamentals you can succeed. 

There’s a formula to the process, it may not be a science, but there are certainly criteria which, if followed, should work well. This is within the capabilities of anyone with the will to learn and you can do the same.

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