The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
"A lot of PR/advertising or marketing agencies can promise a lot of things, but I want to know I can rely on them. I expect them to follow through with promises on the quality work they guaranteed."
— Angela Pan | Angela B. Pan Photography
2. Compensation Tied to Performance
"Why choose to work with partners who claim they will help you grow your business but won't put their money where their mouths are? Whether they are willing to offer you a "percent-of-sales," "percent-above-profit" or even just a simple performance guarantee, the best marketing partners are those people who sit on the same side of the table as you and have skin in the game for your success."
— Charles Gaudet | Predictable Profits
3. DIY It Instead!
"While agencies can certainly get results for startups, I'm a big believer that DIY efforts can be just as effective — if you're given the tools to be successful with your efforts. My secret weapon? MakePR — an online course created by a PR/communications pro who's opted to empower bootstrappers for whom typical agency fees would be a budgetary stretch."
— Amanda Aitken | The Girl's Guide to Web Design
4. Storytelling Ability
"When I think about the articles or profile pieces I most enjoy reading, they are usually rooted in a compelling story. If you have a PR agency that is willing to pitch you without there being a real hook, then you are creating fluff, which will likely account for some empty residual traffic. The alternative is an agency that gets what your audience is looking to read and can craft that narrative."
— Azita Ardakani | Love Social
"No one knows everything, and nothing is more repulsive than an agency that claims to have all the answers. Hiring an agency is about hiring a group of smart people to help work through specific marketing problems. It's not about making crap up and pretending it's the truth."
6. A Firm Understanding of My Industry
"When looking for public relations help, especially in a technical industry, make sure to do your due diligence on whether or not the firm you hire can understand your business and your industry. My company did this to good effect, gaining high-level placements in well-read industry magazines that built our brand and our credibility."
— Michael Seiman | CPX Interactive
7. Strong Relationships
"The most important thing for me is that a PR agency has strong relationships with the publications and groups that I want to reach and become involved with. Without these relationships, even the best quality marketing collateral and press releases are pointless."
— David Ehrenberg | Early Growth Financial Services
"Before web analytics, it was OK for PR companies to promise “best possible effort” in their contracts. Now, analytics verify whether their campaigns work. How much traffic did the campaign drive to your site? How many converted? How many gained recognition of your brand? Were there new social media interactions? If your PR company isn’t paying attention to analytics, find a new one."
"It is important for external agencies to immerse themselves in our mission and brand. Without this level of engagement, it is impossible to accurately communicate the brand to our target audience."
— Caroline Ghosn | The Levo League
10. Tech Savviness
"I always look for tech-savvy people. To consider a firm, I need to know they’re 10 times better than I am. Too many firms are stuck with outdated methods, which means they aren’t even speaking the same language I am when it comes to marketing. I need to know the firm is going to be on the cutting edge of online strategies and that they’re giving me something I can’t do myself."
— Brian Moran | Get 10,000 Fans
11. Proof of Capability
"Proof of financial flexibility is critical. No startup should pay a high first month's retainer or agree to a long-term contract before getting a chance to work with a firm and see its capabilities."
12. Fanatical Follow-Up
"Far too many just do the old "one-and-done" routine, which often doesn't work and wastes dollars. I look for PR/advertising/marketing folks who are nearly as fanatical with their follow-up as we are. It's a seemingly obvious but little-mastered skill in business."
— Christopher Hurn | Mercantile Capital Corporation
13. Strong Relationships
"PR is all about leveraging relationships. Sure, the newbie may be more affordable, but if he/she doesn't have the contacts, you need to look elsewhere."
— Alexis Wolfer | The Beauty Bean
14. Personal Feedback and Training
"I used a PR firm to jumpstart Entrustet's press campaign. The biggest help they gave us was media training: what to say, how to speak more clearly, what to concentrate on, how to avoid questions. They also spent time with us listening in to the interviews and giving us feedback after each one to help us improve. That was worth as much as any of the nice articles they got us."