When you start a small business, you may be advised to start looking for a PR firm to present your company and business to the world.
However, it may be wise to avoid PR firms, at least during the initial years when you are still learning the tricks of survival, as it could turn out to be an expensive affair. Hire a PR firm and you would expect them to do wonders for you, in terms of creating awareness among the mass. But PR firms can work only on the material you give them, and during these embryonic years, you will just be in the process of building up that content.
But then, the question remains- How do I tell the world about my company? Publicity and advertising are two distinct forms of marketing. When you company is in its incipient stages, you would require more advertising or creating public awareness that publicity which only helps in retaining the interest in people's minds time and again.
You can think of creative techniques to increase awareness, without relying on PR firms to do so. To start with, explore and exploit the numerous online advertising means available. Awaken people's interest much before the actual launch date of your product. You could even have an interesting story run in one of the local newspapers. The story could involve aspects about your business like what is new and distinctive, how you business should solve a prevalent issue and how it would benefit your target audience. If the story becomes a hit, bigger newspapers are going to come looking for you!
You could also have eye-catchy posters printed and pasted in public places at cheap costs. Word of mouth has always been and continues to be a major player in spreading information far and wide. Share your company's success with family, friends and acquaintances. Comment on blogs, forums and other social networking sites, with a link to your website, hoping to get people to your homepage. All this requires a bit of creativity and effort, and you could get the publicity a PR firm can offer.
However, once these forms of advertising and your company reach consistent levels, you may have to think of hiring a PR firm or at least a PR consultant to handle media and industry relations, build recognition and reach and increase sales. If you decide to do so, take sufficient time and effort to find the right firm that would meet your needs in terms of work and money. Remember that your marriage with these firms is not as short term affair. Look for a firm that can take care of your PR activities for a span of at least 3-5 years. Some huge PR brands will not charge less than a certain amount and hence you should be aware of the quality and cost trade off that you are willing to take.
Ask around and find out if the firm has handled similar businesses before and if they have excellent contacts. Also find out how they handle negative news. There are times, when an agency's most creative person would offer an excellent proposal for your company, but once it is assigned to them, it is executed by some newbie who hardly gets everything right as expected. Therefore, be sure you are getting the same person who handed you the proposal to promote your company. PR firms can charge you an exorbitant fee for retaining them and not do much at all as time passes. To avoid that, you could go for paying models like 'Pay as you go', 'Pay for performance' or 'Pay for customizations' to ensure you pay only for the work they do.
Having said it all, do not expect PR firms to achieve the impossible and create headlines for your company in the media, everyday. Coverage takes time and effort from both parties, so do not expect a sudden fortune of fame. If they can provide much more positive publicity than your marketing team can do, over time, they are doing their work well.