Once you’re ready to get the word out about your new company, product, or service, how do you find the right PR shop to help you do it?

Very early stage companies, or those that are bootstrapped, might handle PR on their own. But once your business reaches a certain level, you shouldn’t be spending half your day tracking down media leads, following up with bloggers, and brainstorming story ideas. You need a pro.

Even then, though, PR takes time. Your PR pros can only be as successful as the time your company is willing to invest. You should be able to dedicate at least two hours per week to working with PR. That allows for a weekly call, reviewing and approving materials, and taking time to respond to requests for information. If you’re meeting with members of the media or taking calls with them, that’s extra time on top of that.

Still ready to hire some PR help? Here’s how:

Agency vs Freelancer

One of the biggest deciding factors will be price. Mid-sized firms specializing in tech PR usually have minimum monthly retainers starting around $15,000 and up. If this is more than you can pay, consider boutiques or freelancers as an alternative. 

Freelancers are more likely to take on smaller project work--a good choice if you're looking for a quick press push around a specific announcement. If you're looking to establish a long-term relationship and a continued media presence, a boutique may be a better able to manage a broader scope of work over a longer period of time. Many agencies require a minimum engagement, running over three, six, or twelve months.

These are just guidelines: There are many freelancers who enjoy long-term relationships with clients, and there are some agencies that take on short-term project work. 

Start the search: leverage your network

  • The best recommendations will be word-of-mouth. Check with business associates, friends, colleagues, and your trade association to see if anyone has had success in hiring outside PR.
  • Search LinkedIn and see which PR pros show up in your extended network. Ask your connections if they have any direct experience with these people.
  • Scan the press releases of your competitors and other companies in your industry to learn who is representing them, and how well.

Determine the fit

Once you’ve identified a handful of professionals, be sure to get answers to the following questions: 

  • Who will be working on my account?
  • Has the team lead worked on accounts similar to mine in the past? What success have they have?
  • How many clients is my main account manger working on? 
  • How many hours will the person pitching me on this firm/service be working on my account?
  • How many clients is your firm working with currently?
  • What percentage of the overall client mix does my company represent?

Some companies want the breadth of service and high profile of a big firm. Others prefer the personalized attention of a smaller firm. The key is to understand where you fit in the hierarchy and what level of service you'll be receiving before diving in.

Prior experience in a similar area is the best indicator of future success. You want your PR pros to have the right skills, contacts, and knowledge of your industry to do the job right.

Negotiate a contract

Both parties need to agree on the services to be provided, the deliverables, and other expectations. Ask to have a rough indication of how many pieces of coverage your agency or freelancer expects to deliver per announcement, meetings secured per media tour, etc.

Getting the best from your PR team

You may have hired the best PR agency in the world, but that investment could be worthless if you don’t know how to work with them. Be willing to share company information and background stories. If it takes three days to respond to a question or to schedule you for a media call, you’ll be losing opportunities and wasting money.

And remember: People work harder for clients they like. Aim to be responsive and courteous, receptive to the expert advice you sought, and pay your invoice on time. Combine that with an occasional 'thank you' and you will be well down the road to a happy and productive relationship.