Is it PR Time, Yet?

When product and messaging have gained traction and you are now looking to take a half step towards a larger marketing program, PR is often top-of-mind (advisors/board members will also strongly encourage it). PR is not a silver bullet, but done well with the right partners it is a good investment. 

April 6, 2022

Four of our current/recent clients that have established market traction and are realizing message-market fit from our work with them are now plotting next steps to activate their category and their positioning into the larger market.   

Driven by their need to increase awareness among a larger group of prospects (plus some pressure from the board), and after realizing the limits of demand gen, content, and SEO-driven thought leadership, PR ultimately comes up as a relatively cost-effective alternative to paid media campaigns.  This is brand-level thinking (which is why we’re talking about it).

PR is a good idea, but press releases aren’t PR, they are promotion. As with good writing, good PR operates on the Show, Don’t Tell principle. Marc Benioff understood this better than anyone in B2B SaaS. His book “Behind the Cloud” on the early days of Salesforce is essentially a how-to PR book. Even the paid advertising campaigns Salesforce did in the early days were designed to provoke, to challenge people’s reality in a way that generated word of mouth and media attention.

With Show, Don’t Tell in mind, here is a super-abridged version of the PR FAQs we discuss:

Why Hire PR?

PR’s value is based on two capabilities: Expertise and Access. Expertise includes understanding what is “News”, how the news gathering process works (and doesn’t), the difference between long lead and short lead, and how to “make the news”? 

Access relates to long-standing, mutually beneficial relationships with the key media gatekeepers, their emails/mobile numbers, preferred form and times of outreach, deadlines, kid’s names, favorite sports teams…Good PR people are your backstage pass to the news show.

Expertise and Access are mutually reinforcing. The more expert PR people become, the greater access they gain to key media gatekeepers. The more access and interaction they have with media gatekeepers, the more expert they become. 

Is PR Right for Us, Now?

All three clients referenced a CEO/Founder/Board Member request of “We need to be in The Wall St. Journal.” This is totally normal, and I’m not being sarcastic. Your response should be,“Great. Why do we need to be in The Wall St. Journal?” 

This question can lead to a conversation that gets to the heart of the matter, the true business problem or opportunity. In short, are you clear on the strategy, the objectives, the audience, and the action you want to inspire?

Good PR people know how to have this conversation and propose appropriate solutions for the identified problem or opportunity. PR is ultimately a tactic in support of a larger strategy or initiative.

Are We Ready for PR?

Introducing a new element into any business is disruptive, so it is critical to consider what existing or new capabilities and team capacity will we need to have an effective PR presence. 


  • Strategy - Are you clear on your brand strategy? Your position? Your messaging?
  • Team - Who internally is going to manage the PR program or the PR firm? What are they going to have to give up in order to take on this work?
  • Time - Are you looking for results immediately or understand it takes time to gain traction and results? If you want asap, buy ads (but make sure they are newsworthy). 
  • Temperament - Is there proper understanding and appreciation among leadership of the role and value PR has for the brand? 
  • Budget - As with anything, you get what you pay for, but per above the fees and program costs are one part of the associated costs. 

Are You PR Worthy?

David Ogilvy quipped, “There are no dull products, only dull writers.” This applies to brands and PR people, as well. The short answer is every business is PR worthy, but you need someone with imagination and creative chops to help you realize the potential. 

Good PR people will immerse themselves in the company to find the newsworthy nuggets, or the ingredients to produce something newsworthy. They will also propose events, stunts, campaigns, etc…lightning strikes aligned with your business strategy and objectives that will generate news. 

Are you ready to “Make The News”? 

The Media covers people, events, trends, etc…that are different. Different is a way of thinking and behaving. It’s cultural and can be uncomfortable, which is why most brands issue lame, happy crap “...pleased to announce…” press releases. Are you ready to be different?

Media coverage will also likely include uncomfortable questions, undisclosed information, and unwelcome competitor mentions in “your” story. But all good stories (sitcoms, books, movies, news…) have conflict and/or tension. No tension, there’s really no compelling reason to tell the story. The best PR people understand strong brand stories will include a villain. You need to be comfortable with that.

How Do We Measure PR’s Value? 

If you think attribution is tricky with paid media programs, wait until you get into PR. Close to impossible. Every agency has adopted or adapted some type of measurement metric to appease the bean counters. But it still never satisfies. 

Quick anecdote that may help: Way back in the day…during my intro/pitch meeting with founders, one of them insisted that the PR program be able to account for/attribute the spend to sales (some things never change). I pointed to the current issue of Outside Magazine that was on his desk and flipped to a big feature on all the amazing, new online/ecomm stores for outdoor gear: FogDog, Altrec, Planet Outdoors, but noticeably, not Backcountry. I asked him, “How much is it worth to you for Backcountry to be featured in this article?” Much grumbling ensued. 

Hourly/Project or Retainer-Based?

As a former PR agency owner, I can tell you that we/they prefer long-term retainer-based relationships. The agency gets to know the business, the strategy, the people, and the culture intimately. It also allows for long-term planning cycles to produce kick-ass work for long-lead cycles.

From the media’s perspective, they appreciate the consistency of knowing who to reach out to for contacts and information, which makes their job easier, which makes it more likely they will reach out to the agency when they are on deadline and need a source for their story. 

When product and messaging have gained traction and you are now looking to take a half step towards a larger marketing program, PR is often top-of-mind (advisors/board members will also strongly encourage it). But PR is not a silver bullet, but done well with the right partners it is a good investment. 


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