#5QTest: Is your PR an Investment or Expense?

Making PR Work For You

If you are small business or {worse} a startup, then the question of whether to hire a PR firm is probably something you are always grappling with. In my experience, PR has been a much maligned and under-executed tool in the marketer's basket. Few companies I have spoken to have good things to say about their PR experiences, particularly, in counteracting negative PR. 

Great pr firms are strategic partners in storytelling!

Think Chipotle; they amped the no GMO message really well but floundered on the salmonella lash back. No company wants to be them; but even when the stakes are not that high.. wait! the stakes are always high for non-corporates! You simply cannot afford a lax PR strategy, particularly one that is disjoint and isolated from the overall marketing and growth plan.

First lesson of PR - it is not just brand building. PR is a powerful marketing tool that can be used in conjunction with other marketing efforts or in isolation to deliver on business objectives. To do that, you need to set it up right.

First, what does a good PR person/firm do?

Wheel of PR deliverables
source: Lewis PR

So, now that you know where the bar is, you get a starting picture of how well your PR firm is doing.

But, how do you know if your PR strategy as a whole is working for you and is not just an expense?

Take this #5QTest and find out where you stand. Answering these questions will also give you the ideas to improve your PR strategy, no matter how well or badly you score today. As a bonus, if you haven't thought about these questions before as part of your business strategy, now you know what to do!

1. Do you have agreed goals?

A key driver to the success of your PR strategy and the effectiveness of your PR resource(s) is how well the planning has been done. This begins with you. Managing PR is just like running a project - there needs to be goals, timelines and milestones. Most importantly, there needs to be effective communication

Project Success rates with agreed SLA

Before you set about talking PR, you need to set your internal strategy right. PR is not a standalone channel and needs to fit in with the overall marketing strategy - from messaging, to audience, to execution channels. So, a few things you need to set right.


Many startups and small businesses do not have a marketing budget, leave alone one for PR. This is a costly mistake in two ways - if you don't know what you want to spend then you will not find the money when you need it, and, overspend when you don't. An integrated marketing strategy is a must to ensure all your channels bear good fruit. Essential to that is understanding how much you want/afford to spend in each channel. 


What do you want to achieve from your PR? Depends on where you are in the lifecycle of your product. Like I said before, PR is not simply for brand building. Increasingly, and with the use of digital channels, you can tie in purchase conversion as well! So, set your goals internally aligned with your phase of exposure need and growth targets.


Once you have the budget and goals, collaborate with your PR to define a realistic strategy that works within the budget and can achieve your business goal(s). It is important at this point to be objective on what can be accomplished and set clear and detailed deliverables, including the quantity and quality of exposure, time lines for achieving that exposure, type of exposure such as audience profile, fall back plan etc.

Plan for the year and create a strategy broken by quarters with monthly milestones. Agree upon and execute a Service Level Agreement (SLA). It can be dynamic and changed as needs change but have one in place, so everyone is on the same page.

2. What size fish are you? And, how big is the PR pond?

This is particularly true if you are outsourcing your PR execution to an agency, which, is more often perceived as efficient. If you have chosen to go with an outside PR firm, know that they operate on a shared resource model and rarely turn down new business. The impact of this is that you need to be vigilant about where you fit into the pecking order of client serving. It may feel advantageous to engage a PR firm that represents celebrities (in your field) and large firms because of the potential experience they can bring. But, if you are too small, your needs may not be priority. Sometimes a smaller, innovative (data driven) firm may fit your needs better. The scrappy, out of box thinking can be accretive to idea generation and execution on a budget; plus they will be hungry to perform and be open to custom payment structures. No matter the size of firm, having an SLA will help you keep the firm keep you top of mind and not bump you off for a more lucrative (!important) client.

3. Is your Infrastructure ready?

There is nothing worse than a deer caught in the headlights. So don't be one!

If you are gunning for a big banner name mention or a whole feature story, then be prepared. Let me say that again, be prepared! And again, 


If your PR efforts go right, you will see a massive spike in incoming interest for a period of time post the exposure. Make sure your infrastructure - physical and organizational - is ready to receive the increased volume of interest and convert it to real business. Below is a prep checklist -

  • T-? Plan: Ask your PR for the expected peak and tail of each exposure. It can vary from 2 days to 2 weeks or more depending on publication and relevance to your audience.
  • Flex that AWS plan: Make sure your website has the bandwidth to handle up to 100x the volume of your last highest monthly visit.
  • Gather the troops: Make sure you have enough people to handle incoming calls as soon office hours open the day of the break for atleast 5 days post. This is truly an All Hands on Deck situation for most of you!
  • Ready the Attack Formation: Align  all departments to work together - marketing, sales and operations need to work cohesively to make a smooth transition from unknown to celebrity. If you find bottlenecks anywhere along the plumbing, Drano it!

4. Does your PR think outside the box?

This is key especially for small, me too and 'disruptive' companies. Good PR is contigent on telling stories. That involves creating a compelling story and then delivering it across the right channels. News outlets are often inundated with uninteresting stories and stories told very badly. The health of your PR strategy hinges on your PR person ability to cut through the clutter and stand out.

This could be as Content - in the way the story is told that piques the curiosity of even a jaded journalist. This is a diamond not in the rough! If you find someone who can do this, you hit gold!

The other way to test the PR's ability for innovative thinking is in the Channel. What new outlets have they suggested to you? Or, are the staying the course of a traditional firm - print and digital publications.

If you are a new tech company in a traditional industry, and the firm you picked is more traditional but have the ability to provide you introduction, then for this collaboration to work, your marketing will have to work in a more connected fashion helping them understand you. You can help by providing comparables in both your product/service world as well as industry best practices. 

5. Do you have the metrics to measure success?

PUT your CMO in the hot seat!

Finally, the ultimate measure of your strategy success is how well it does against the goals you had set for it. Measuring the value of this channel boils down to more than exposure in the form of impressions, clicks. A true measure is to calculate the lift in brand equity, increase in sales volume, increase lead generation, increased deal conversion and so many more. Define the KPIs and prioritize them.

Understandably, many of you may be price sensitive. It is always good to ask if the PR will work on revenue share basis, which, puts their skin the game and aligns goals more easily. This is similar to base + bonus employee compensation model.


I/We currently have PR strategy *
How in-sync is your PR strategy?
Our PR strategy is right aligned with company's goals
Our PR understand our mission and synced with growth plans
We will grow with the agency/person
I don't think we are ready/ see use for PR
Did this article change your mind about PR?