digital marketing

The love-hate relationship between start-ups and PR agencies

There is some sort of a love-hate relationship between PR agencies and start-ups. And dissatisfaction or misunderstandings are commonplace with press relations (PR) and the choice — such a difficult one — of the right partner.

Ombeline Blondel de Joigny, VP Marketing at AB Tasty sends a clear warning: “Whether it is a question of organising its press relations internally, externally, through an influencer or agency strategy, there is no miracle cure. Yet, there are clear recommendations for defining and prioritising one’s objectives and messages.

The love-hate relationship between start-ups and PR agencies

The love-hate relationship between start-ups and PR agencies
The love-hate relationship between start-ups and PR agencies

How do you choose the right partner, in all senses of the term, (internal or third-party resource or agency) to work with you on this? One who will, above all, make you succeed in your endeavours?

To answer these popular questions, I invited Caroline Lavaret to share her best practices with us. She is a marcomms expert who has worked both on the agency (Pleon-Ketchum) and advertiser sides (Symantec, EMC).

Choosing a PR agency isn’t like buying office supplies!

That’s why it’s difficult to find the right partner who will understand you, read your thoughts, find the right words and help you make the right strategic choices. In other words, it’s a complex process, but the fundamentals are known.

It is all the more complex in the digital age, which makes a more quantitative approach mandatory through the reliance on metrics.

KPIs, ROI, Reach, Word of mouth, the number of shares of an article are all digital techniques which have made PR an entirely different ball-game.

Yet, numbers aren’t enough to keep us happy. A successful client/agency relationship is no rocket science. Some agencies and clients are made to work together, and others are not.

How to choose the right PR agency then?

It would be best if you took the time to get to know each other. As in any relationship, when meeting for the first time, the agency must seduce and convince you. Yet, words are not enough, it’s either love at first sight, or it’s not!

If buying PR services means buying “person-hours,” yet beyond, there is a bundle with a human relationship in which there are some methodology, technique, objectives, but also feeling. You can’t work and collaborate with people you don’t trust, with whom you don’t have a good understanding.

Finally, don’t forget that, as in any relationship, feelings must be mutual. The client must also be attractive to the agency; it’s very similar to the recruitment process.

Has digital changed the PR situation?

Undoubtedly it has. For example, the scope of press relations has considerably broadened. It no longer includes exclusively press or media journalists, but many influencers, bloggers or YouTubers who can sometimes have audiences greater than those of full-fledged media.

Real-time interaction is of the essence. Social networks and digital platforms dedicated to PR are new points of contact.

PR agencies must be active on social and mastering its tone of voice, which requires new skills and the mastery of digital tools. The agency you select will manage your overall reputation on all these targets.

This is key. And by agency, I mean the whole team, not just the big boss.

He or she represents and supports the team, and will certainly have his or her role to play, but each team member counts.

The aim is to reassure one’s client. Let him or her feel that choices will be made clinically, that the PR staff walks the talk. This is why a team of doers, who will be in touch with the client permanently, is essential. PowerPoint presentations aren’t good enough.

On the other hand, the agency must be part of the client’s team in its own right. It needs to know the main contact names and have access to anyone in the business as if they were their co-workers.

Mutual objectives and motivation are what makes start-ups and PR agency relationships successful. The job isn’t finished once the PR agency has been chosen. On the contrary, it is only the starting point.

So, for start-ups, too, being a PR client is a full-time job?

Absolutely! More work on their plate. PR agencies must be available at all times, and clients too.

Especially with the advent of digital and the integration of PR into the overall communications and marketing mix.

We are witnessing changes that are having a major impact on the start-ups / PR agency relationship.

If a client is not proactive, not prone to give information, feed his agency with essential content, answer hot questions, it won’t be in a position to expect great results, be they quantitative or qualitative.

Newsjacking” is an increasingly popular technique: it means one seizes the opportunity to submit a client’s vision on a hot topic that already has the media’s attention. This means one must be quick and responsive.

Ultimately, this brings us back to this notion of close collaboration. Both parties, PR and start-ups, must be ready to jump on the opportunity. Beyond that, what an agency really needs is trust.

Natacha Heurtault
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Natacha Heurtault

Natacha has more than 20 years of experience in communication, press relations and influencer communication. She is a freelance communications manager for high-tech companies and start-ups.
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