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When and how to work with PR agencies as a freelancer

Figuring out how best to onboard a PR agency for your brand can be unbelievably tricky. Mostly because the prices they charge can genuinely seem like a joke and it doesn’t help that the PR industry and culture has so many horror stories – some very valid, others less so – attached to it. It also doesn’t help that many – not all – personalities within PR come across as ingenuine and overly salesy – French & Saunders’ iconic Ab Fab 90s sitcom didn’t stem from nowhere and considers to stay relevant today for a reason sweetie, darling

You can work with a PR agency on an ad hoc basis, for a specific period (like the launch of your business) or on a continuous basis, paying them something called a retainer. Public relations (PR) should be about managing your business’ messaging and reputation (marketing), and finding the most effective ways to spread the word about your brand to the right audience. That might be done in-house but, in certain situations, the best option could be to bring in some external expertise via a PR agency (or individual). 

Traditionally, PR would focus on press coverage but now this also entails securing speaker slots at events, podcast or radio appearances, and growing your social media channels. 

A PR agency should have tried and tested methods that you know are worth the money spent and will help you to reach the audience and necessary numbers possible and plausible for your business. Outsourcing PR can also help you focus on the other parts of the business that demand your full attention, like strategy or sales. But doing it well is hard – journalists, for example, are often inundated with hopeful and unfocused pitches. The right PR agencies can help you hone your story pitch and give you access to their address book of connections.

What I will say, however, is that if you’re in the early stages of your business do not go straight to PR. Evaluating when you need external help can be difficult. You might not need it yet. An organic, nuclear following is so crucial and is also a great way to test whether the current format of your business is attractive. If you’re an independent music artist or small candle business, if you won’t attract more than a handful of listeners, fans and/or buyers on your own, realistically, no amount of money will transform your product itself. Thanks to TikTok and other social media platforms, the algorithms will work in your favour if you’re promoting something that some consider interesting or worthwhile. This may sound harsh but trust me, you’ll save your money in the long run. Posting on TikTok twice a day for several months can attract thousands and tens of thousands of followers. Once you have this nuclear, avatar community of followers, a PR agency will help to find more of them. But without this nuclear start, you’re money isn’t going to go as far. 

Small businesses can expect to pay between $2,000 and $10,000 a month for an agency retainer, with no guarantee that results will materialise. That means picking the right agency or individual is essential. This is a partnership: they need to understand your brand and mission and have the necessary tools and contacts to spread your story. It’s not unusual to hear of business owners making bad moves in the PR department, being scared from the experience and vowing not to spend on external help again.

Finally, when it comes to finding the right PR agency we suggest asking your network. Have a friend doing something similar to you whose growth you admire? Ask them who they use and it’s far more likely that your business will be sitting in safe hands. 

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