\u201cA complete waste of $60,000 and 6 months of our time gone down the drain. They should really pay us for missing this great opportunity\u201d.\n\n\n\nThe question of when to hire a PR agency always arises in startup marketing budget discussions. Understandably, every CEO believes that the industry is eagerly waiting her invention with baited breath, so why wouldn\u2019t the journalists and analysts be lining up to speak with her? The answer is quite simple: As magnificent as your product may be, nobody cares. When do they care? When you can prove repeatedly that it is truly a masterpiece that can benefit many people or companies.\n\nThe PR agency vs. startup story\n\nPre-launch\n\n\nYou have a product that is about to launch.\nYou need press coverage.\nYou hire a PR agency a month or two before the launch on a 12-month retainer.\nYou get the ball rolling with prep calls.\nThe press release is finally approved after 11 rounds of iteration.\nYour agency manages to secure a handful of interviews with journalists and analysts, a couple of them are Tier 1. (High five! Wow!)\n\n\nLaunch\n\n\nLaunch day arrives, and luckily all journalists who interviewed you covered the launch with quite good reviews.\nYour website traffic increased by 50% for launch week.\nYou got 10 new followers on LinkedIn.\nYou are moderately happy but expected more.\n\n\nPost-launch\n\n\nMonth 3 of retainer: one month after launch, no coverage.\nMonth 4 after launch: no coverage and \u201cwe are disappointed\u201d discussions kick off with your PR agency.\u00a0\nYou decide to give them another month to improve.\nMonth 5: PR agency secures a couple of additional articles in Tier 2 publications.\nYou are now mad and down $50,000.\nYou give the PR agency its 30-day advance notice of termination.\n\n\nSound familiar? Well, while you may have selected a lousy PR agency, consider your role in this.\n\nFailing points of a solid PR campaign\n\nThere are plenty more, but these two are the golden favorites that keep repeating themselves:\n\n\n1. Newsworthiness and setting expectations: You hired an agency for 12 months when you only had enough news to interest the journalists at the time of the launch. Journalists are bombarded with over 200 pitches per day. Your product really needs to be an interesting story to get attention. By this I mean, giving journalists access to data that they are thirsty for, such as industry trends and numbers, customer interviews, a behind-the-scenes look at the technology, great images and infographics, etc.\n\n\nChances are that you couldn't provide any of that because your customers (if any) did not want to be identified, your data is difficult to mine and you don\u2019t have the resources to dedicate to that, and your technology is too precious to reveal to the world!\n\n\n\nOh and there\u2019s another thing. Your product might simply not be that interesting to the press! That doesn\u2019t mean it won\u2019t succeed in the market, but it does mean that it may never be in the headlights.\n\n\n\n2. Inappropriate spokesperson: This is a tricky one, but it\u2019s important. Often the wrong person is "elected" to speak with the press and analysts. Companies often insist that a certain person speak for political reasons -- because he or she is the CEO or the founder, for example. It's really important to put egos aside and put the most articulate person in front of the press. This is a show, and the best performer needs to take center stage.\n\n\nAnd don't forget that your spokesperson actually needs to set aside time to speak with journalists. Getting press attention is tough, so if your PR agency has managed to score an interview, limiting them to three random time slots over the next two weeks simply won\u2019t cut it.\n\nWhen should you be rightfully mad at your agency\n\n1. if they did not set realistic expectations regarding what they can deliver with the material you have provided. While all agencies, good and bad, want to overachieve, they should be giving you a realistic idea of what to expect.\n\n\n\nYou\u2019ve delivered the goods -- an interesting story, data, customers and a well-versed spokesperson -- but the coverage is still insufficient? Yep, you can be mad about that.\n\n\n\n2. If they let inexperienced junior associates handle your account. Many agencies fall into the massive and tempting trap of letting junior team members take over accounts too quickly. Senior employees close new accounts and pamper the big-name customers. Your startup is less\u2026 appealing. This is not acceptable.\n\n\n3. If the agency offered no ideas or creativity.\u00a0\u00a0Many agencies rely on their clients to feed them ideas for coverage when it really should be the other way around. Demand their creativity and nothing less.\n\nYou get what you pay for\n\nBy and large, in North America, tech PR agencies' retainers range from $5,000 to $15,000 per month. There are exceptions in each direction, but that range applies to 90% of them.\n\n\n\n\u00a0You can\u2019t be fooled into thinking that the services provided by an agency charging $5,000 a month will really equal the services of an agency charging $15,000.\n\n\n\nWhile some $15,000 agencies are overpriced, I have never been pleasantly surprised by an agency that charges only $5,000 (or less). Again, set your expectations. If you can only afford the lower end of the scale, the output will be lower. Getting disappointed for $15,000 a month is also really understandable, so make sure you see examples of work done for comparable clients and ask the team what it really took to get them there.\n\nWhen you should really hire a PR agency\n\nQuite simply, when you aren't the only one who believes that there is a good story to tell. A decent PR agency will (or should) let you know if you have that.\n\n\nIf you need an agency for a four-month launch period, don\u2019t seek a 12-month retainer; that only feeds disappointment. There are plenty of agencies willing to work hard for you for four months.