As the technology market has been revalued over the last quarter and marketing costs have come under the microscope for venture-backed companies going through cutbacks and layoffs, I’ve heard echoes from earlier this year when big-name tech founders and communications executives recommended startups ditch their PR agencies.
Outside of cost, those arguments typically boil down to: Growth-focused technology brands can be more effective by shifting their focus away from earned media and going straight to communicating directly with their customers.
The biggest problem with this view is that if a tech company’s PR agency is only responsible for securing articles TechCrunch, there’s an outdated perception of what public relations firms can offer. Firms that focus solely on media placements are things of the past. While the next generation of agencies remain expert storytellers, they are also digital experts skilled in finding the medium to get it in front of the right audience at the precise time. That means creating content for a viral TikTok, an expertly targeted social media campaign, crafting sponsored content for podcasts, and producing narratives and thought leadership that drives viewers and shift viewpoints via owned channels.
The PR firms utilizing these broader marketing playbooks are adding tremendous value to the startups within their portfolios. Using that to understand better what the best startup or technology PR firms do, let’s debunk some common misperceptions about PR in the tech world.
Myth: Employees on payroll can tell the company’s story better.
Fact: Agencies are experts in telling stories that resonate vs. regurgitating ‘kool-aid’.
When startups hire a PR agency, you’re getting the value of third-party experts who are not simply drinking the internal marketing Kool-Aid—they’re looking to utilize their expertise to align the story of the company’s product with both customers and the overall market's needs, be it SaaS, crypto, cybersecurity, AI, or another industry. Agencies are adept at creating the dual-track PR campaigns that private technology companies typically need to drive customer acquisition and increase potential investor awareness simultaneously. Furthermore, industry relationships developed from working with hundreds of technology companies combined with their knowledge of distribution and top-of-funnel content enable agencies to drive communications at scale more effectively while reaching targeted audiences better than solely relying on an internal team.
Myth: Tech brands spend too much time creating story ideas for their agency.
Fact: Good agencies are a partner that creates compelling, data-driven stories themselves.
Companies will always be involved in an agency’s work to some degree — they are the ones being represented, after all. But today’s PR firms don’t just listen to a story from the company one day and pitch it to the Wall Street Journal the next. Today’s firms take what they learn and create actual newsworthy stories and narratives with their years of experience that can feel at home on both owned and earned media channels. These stories can be relayed across e-books, whitepapers, newsletters, podcasts, and beyond. Of course, there will always be some oversight from a company, but in fairness, the same degree of oversight is also needed for an in-house team.
Myth: Agencies’ media-focused strategy is outdated.
Fact: Good agencies are more than media relations machines.
An ever-growing field of startups and PR reps competing for space in an ever-shrinking pool of technology publications has made earned media harder than ever. PR agencies that restrict themselves to that small pool of publications are doomed to fail. Many next-generation PR shops serving the tech industry have payrolls more dedicated to content production than media relations. They also have folks dedicated to shaping company narratives, building organic and paid social campaigns, engaging with influencers, and beyond. A placed story still carries huge marketing and sales value, but with the opportunity for placing those stories limited, new tools in the PR playbook must be utilized.
Myth: There’s no way to measure the results you’re paying for.
Fact: There is, and there are more ways than one.
As PR’s lines blur with content marketing and even digital advertising, there are more ways than ever to measure results – tracked content, improving SERP results, Google analytics, social media tools, and sentiment gauges are only a few. Combined with the tech industry’s embrace of marketing and sales metrics that tell you precisely who is looking at your content and when and how they’re doing it, it’s easier to see how effective an agency’s strategy is. That measurement, combined with the most potent tool - word-of-mouth - means seeing precisely what you are paying for.
Myth: A better long-term strategy is building PR programs from within.
Fact: In a job-hopping economy, your agency may be a more cost-effective long-term option.
In the current tech world, workers change jobs frequently. They most often stay with a company for two years and then decide to jump for greener pastures. In this job-hopping economy, a good agency partner can stabilize technology marketing teams that continue to see high turnover. Going the agency route can be an effective way to solve the 3 A’s that many human resource teams are struggling with. It’s undoubtedly easier to attract an agency partner, they’re typically quicker to activate to an optimal output level given their expertise and collective experiences, and attrition isn’t a problem as the agency is also looking for a longer-term commitment. Couple that with the fact that you’re bringing on board a team of folks that can likely handle a multitude of tasks versus going in the direction of hiring multiple specialists in-house, and you can start to see the additional cost reasons for supplementing an internal marketing department with a good PR agency.
Kyle Austin is the founder and managing partner at Beantown Media Ventures (BMV), a PR, content, and digital marketing agency that has helped 100’s of venture-backed startups drive inbound leads and build valuations.