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Ask the Expert: How Do I Hire Public Relations Support?

You have the best idea, product, or service, and the world must know about it. It’s time to work to work with a communications professional. But do you hire internally, or work with an agency? What about freelance professionals? Plus, now you need to know best tips on hiring and evaluating.

Don’t allow the idea of working with PR and marketing overwhelm you to the point that you miss out on valuable media coverage, partnerships, content development and sales opportunities. We address your needs and more in the latest edition of “Ask the Expert,” Launch DFW’s bi-weekly segment that invites North Texas industry thought leaders to share helpful advice and strategies with current and aspiring business owners.

Meet Emily Graham

North Texas native Emily Graham is senior vice president, reputation management and financial services, at FleishmanHillard, a public relations firm in New York. In her role, Emily is responsible for leading the financial and professional services division out of the New York office. As one of the youngest women of color in a senior role at her company, Emily was recently profiled in Forbes for her ascension to her current job and what it took to get there. Emily pulls from her expertise to share tips on choosing a PR partner that will get the job done.

When to Invest in Public Relations

When should a startup or small business think about investing in public relations? Some say if you haven’t already started, it’s too late.

I think you said it well. If you’ve already started [your business], it’s too late. The way that entrepreneurs and small businesses or startups of any scale go now, it’s almost like PR is in their DNA, whether they know it or not. They’re sitting around talking about their company purpose and mission, they are doing their positioning statements. They’re writing their messages, and in essence doing what we think are the most fundamental components of PR. They are already investing.

The value of paying someone or having a partner with you that has expertise in PR is bringing that to life. I know that when you’re a business and you’re scaling and you’re ramping up fast, the last thing you want to do is put money against something that is not making money, which is a cost. But the truth is PR such a critical part of your business’s success because it’s going to manage how are you are perceived with the people you ultimately want to do business with or that you want to buy your business or the people that can help your business get to the next level.

If I were a business owner, I would really find the right partner that, even though you might be paying them, even though they might be consulting with you, they don’t feel like a transaction. It doesn’t feel like something that is a burden to you. They’re willing to roll up their sleeves, immerse themselves in your business and understand what your goals are and craft and customize PR strategies for you. After you sit around the table with your founders and you feel like you all have your mission and you have what you want to do, bring a PR partner along to sit at those round tables too. The more they can be integrated from the beginning, the less headache you will have trying to get them to understand and align with your business. Because everyone’s going to need ramp up time, everyone’s going to need 30 days to really understand you and get to know your language and get to know your goals. Bring them in those early days so they can start to craft a plan with you so it doesn’t feel like they’ve gone away in a lab to come back and present something that is really off the mark. And in those early days what you’re really trying to do is get your foundational messaging together. You might need to get copy and content for your website, for your social media pages. You want to do your videos. You want to get as much content, as many stories as you can, so that when you’re ready to go, you can go.

The top 5 tips for evaluating the best fit for your company

I find in my work with client and companies, whether you’re working in house at a company or you’re working with an agency, you still have clients. Some of the very best spokespeople and the most passionate people are those who are the founders of the company. The truth is those people are running the company and they can’t be the PR person too; you’re going to have to utilize someone.

Whether you hire someone to do that in house or you hire an agency, the most important quality, I think, is someone who has intellectual curiosity. You want someone who is consistently asking questions, constantly questioning why and understanding, so they can really drill down to the most compelling parts of your story and bring it to life. I’m not saying you want someone who’s going to challenge you in a way that’s going to make you question whether they’re the right fit; you want someone who challenges you in a way that says “You know what, I never thought about it that way before.” Sometimes it’s hard for someone internally to do that. Sometimes it’s easier for someone with an outside view to do that. But if you happen to have someone in house that is intellectually curious, who challenges that status quo, who wants to take a deeper look, I think that’s number one.

The other thing you need, and this sounds cliché, but they can’t be afraid to do really dirty work. Because in the early days of your startup and your business, everyone does everything. Everyone is really running on all cylinders and you need a PR partner who is not going to be afraid to get super dirty and go outside the realms and lines of maybe what you hired them to do. You might have just hired them to do website copy but they might see that you really need help on your social media channel or you might really need to rewrite your bio. You want somebody that’s multi-faceted and can be more of a Swiss army knife for you and will roll up their sleeves and do everything.

My third point would be not to make your scope too narrow in the beginning. You might know you need PR help, and you might know there are specific pain points that you have, but I would advise you, the business owner, to be cautious of being overly prescriptive in your scope of work. Allow your consultant to really work with you to customize what you need because I see that evolving and growing in your early days of business.

The fourth thing I would say is you need someone you get along with. Chemistry is important. Your business is your baby, your startup is your vision, it’s something you’re passionate about [and] it’s extremely important you have chemistry with whomever you work with. And you kind of want to like the people you work with. You might find a really capable expert but you spend all your time bumping heads with them and you can’t get along. It’s different, and I think this is an important distinction, I said that you need to have a little bit of an agitator and a challenger around you so they can ask the right questions to get what you need.  You can still have that person and like them. It’s very important to have chemistry as you build and scale and all your vendors and partner should be people that that you generally could also go and have a drink with after work.

The last thing is the money part. You as an owner should also have an open mind on how you work on retainer, project basis. The idea is that you will not stop needing PR support. As your business cycle evolves and grows, you will probably need more support. You will need more of a partner. So allow some flexibility and openness around your building structure so that you can broaden it if you need to, just like you can broaden your scope of work if you need to.

Have a Question?

Do you have a question or topic you would like to see addressed in our “Ask the Expert” segment? Email our editor.