If you're a startup that's hired a PR agency for the first time, the probability exists that you're not going to be happy with the results.


"Some businesses doing PR for the first time, especially startups, are never happy," says Elliot Tomaeno, founder & CEO of ASTRSK PR, who has worked with more than 200 startups.

"Companies that think that PR can be a silver bullet, a substitute for holistic marketing, are almost always going to be unhappy with the results."

Indeed, with the constant evolution of digital marketing and social media platforms, the old ways of PR, and the metrics that defined success, have gone the way of many other "outbound" modes of marketing, like cold calling and direct mail.

Old PR metrics relied on the number of media hits, audience impressions, and something called "advertising equivalency value"--the idea that a few inches of press coverage in a full-page news article carried the same ad value as the price of a full-page ad in that paper.

"Advertising equivalency value (AEV) was really a lot of hocus-pocus," says Gary Frisch, a 26-year PR vet and owner of Swordfish Communications in New Jersey. "It was a way of justifying a client's PR expenditure. This was regardless of whether or not their competitors were included in the story, or whether it was a positive, negative, or neutral mention."

These antiquated PR metrics, many of which are still being bandied about, have stirred quite a bit of debate among PR and content marketing professionals about the relevance and value of PR.

Although many business owners still place value in PR's ability to generate brand awareness, or prepare a company for an exit, business owners today are more concerned with eyeballs, and how those translate to website traffic, social media impressions, and, ultimately, sales.

But PR is not dead. Done correctly, with outreach to influencers and in lock-step with optimized content creation, it can still be an essential part of content optimization.

Here are recommendations from PR pros themselves.

1. Ask your agency to explain how PR fits into your goal-based marketing strategy.

Instead of tracking how many hits you might be receiving from a TV station or a newspaper, ask your agency how they plan on generating more traffic to your website, and then develop an online strategy based on these goals.

"Your PR agency can continue to reach out to TV and newspaper contacts," says Allie Danziger, founder and owner of Houston-based Integrate, "but they can also show you how, for example, a news anchor's Instagram post might be beneficial to your company's bottom line or how the newspaper's online, subscriber-only content is targeting a more specific audience."

2. Know exactly what topics you impact and what your stance is on each one

The first rule of generating press is to be interesting to your audience. Choose a few topics, "and they don't even need to be industry-specific," says Kyle Arteaga, owner of the Bulleit Group, a San Francisco-based technology PR firm.

"Perhaps start with your company's mission. Is work-life balance an important philosophy of your company? If so, great...why does this matter and how does it help you service your customers better?"

Arteaga explains that if you're a B2B business, it might serve you better to be industry-specific when choosing topics to create press around. Monitor Twitter or LinkedIn discussions. Which of those trends does your company contradict? This is where you can get the most interest from press, influencers and your prospects.

3. Integrate your PR with your social content strategy

The goal today of all digital strategy is to reach a broader audience. "One big exclusive media story should be a complement to several other important pieces of content that will launch across relevant social channels," says Katy Saeger, CEO of Harmonica.

"For B2B, this may be your website or Twitter, but for consumer brands this may be Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest."

4. Think about placing longer features that dive into your company's values

Instead of trying to place lighter stories in a large spread of publications, Arteaga from the Bulleit Group says "it's definitely quality over quantity these days, especially considering all the syndication that takes place."

5. Optimize your press releases The old classic press release is not dead, "but they must have a strategy," says Liz Rodriguez, digital strategist at DESIGNHOUSE. "You need that traffic back to your website."

Any press release you send out should have a ranking keyword, and a link back to your website. These create backlinks to your site, increasing your page authority and pleasing the Google Gods.

6. Measure the social shares of your PR

With more than 60% of millennials saying they rely on social media for their news, use tools like MuckRack's Who Shared to measure social share volume for PR releases. "This plays into targeting outlets that millennials read (on mobile devices)," says Kyle Austin, founder and managing partner at Beantown Media Ventures. "And also outlets that often have high social shares of stories: Buzzfeed, Business Insider, Huffington Post, etc."

7. Leverage third-party content

Any content that's created about your company, by bloggers, reporters, TV broadcasts, etc., re-purpose it to use as a tangible selling asset.

"Content is king," says Zachary Pardes, Director of NYC-based RLM Public Relations. "Clients who understand this often get the most bang out of their buck with PR."

8. If budget permits, use wire distribution services, like PR Newswire

Gary Frisch, owner of Swordfish Communications, puts his faith in PRN. "Their content has a better chance of actually being picked up by legitimate news outlets than the other wire services," he says. "There are less expensive options, but these are often 'passive' sites, where content is there to be found by journalists and aggregators, as opposed to 'active' sites, which actually send content to the media outlets."

The key to submitting to these services, like the key to any PR, is to be newsworthy, or offer valuable information.

"You're throwing away money if it's an ego release (eg., 'Acme Corp won an award')," he says.

"Self promotional copy can not be too self promotional."