If you have a tight marketing budget, public relations is one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies to execute in-house, as it only costs you time. There is no budget needed to communicate with the media, but you must dedicate time to research the media, determine why their audience would care, and figure out how to communicate the message effectively.

As a national B2B tech PR firm, we work with companies of all shapes and sizes across the country — from scale-up stage to publicly traded — who are looking for PR support to drive their businesses forward. As a general rule, most startups do not have the budget or need to hire a PR agency for a full-scale, national PR campaign; in-house efforts or a freelancer are better solutions. But, as you grow to secure a Series A, see recurring revenue and reach scale-up stage, when does it make sense to invest dollars in the expertise of a PR agency?

Based on experience, there are two aspects of a scale-up business that seem to bubble to the top when determining if a company is ready to invest in PR:

1. You have a defined message and target audience

Many tech companies can explain, in detail, the features and specs of their product, but can’t yet answer the questions: What does it do? What problem does it solve? Who buys it?

Before spending money on a tech PR agency, you must have a defined message and a clear vision of your audience. Without this foundation, your agency will be shooting blind — securing stories with disparate messaging that doesn’t speak to a specific group of prospects, therefore not driving any real business value.

A solid PR strategy is built around clear messaging and an understanding of business goals that PR can impact. Whether you are looking to influence prospects, current customers, or investors, there is a unique PR strategy for each. For example, if a sales goal for the year is to increase revenue in the healthcare vertical by 15 percent, your agency can execute a strategy that speaks directly to IT decision makers in the healthcare trade and vertical media. This media coverage can be leveraged by the sales team to move prospects down the funnel and by the marketing team in their campaigns.

2. You have an internal marketing team

Speak to any founder or C-level executive at a tech company and they are stretched thin: juggling time between customer acquisition, product development, talent issues and raising their next round (to name a few). Throwing the management of an outside partner on her plate doesn’t make sense — especially a PR firm, which requires a true partnership with consistent communication and deadlines to meet.

Once you have built out your marketing team with a VP or director level and marketing support roles (think content manager and digital specialist), it makes sense to consider a PR agency at this point for two reasons:

  • You have a go-between for approvals and communications with the agency. At a high-level, as the founder or CEO, you will (and should) be involved with your PR agency. You will be leveraged as a thought leader and the agency needs access to your perspective and knowledge of the industry. You do not (and should not), however, need to be involved at a micro-level. Leave the edits, approvals and scheduling of interviews to your marketing team. This requires trusting your marketing leader to spearhead the agency communications and make decisions about positioning, which is what you have hired him or her to do.
  • You are executing a number of marketing strategies at this point. PR should never be relied upon as a standalone tactic to drive leads. If PR will be your largest monthly marketing spend, you are not yet ready to invest in a PR firm. PR reaches its full potential when the media coverage secured is leveraged as a sales and marketing asset, using social media, paid media, and sales enablement to get the coverage in front of the right people, impacting leads and SEO.

As you mature from startup to scale-up and hopefully make headway toward your desired financial exit, remember that PR is a vital part of a long-term marketing strategy that can be used to influence stakeholders along every stage of growth. Start small in-house, define your message, and then look to the above criteria to determine when you are ready to make the investment in a tech PR agency partner.

About the Author

As president of BLASTmedia, a national B2B public relations agency, Lindsey Groepper has more than 15 years of experience in PR. Specializing in media relations and thought leadership, BLASTmedia’s roster of B2B tech clients include scale-up to publicly-traded tech companies like Veritone, Appirio, Redbox, Formstack and Moogsoft.