Tech Juice recently caught up with Matt Phillips, founder & CEO of PPR, a company that provides an innovative managed PR service aimed at start-ups and scaleups. We wanted to find out what that’s all about, here’s what we learned:
What exactly do you mean by a managed PR service?
Start-up PR is far harder than doing PR for big brands. Lots of people say they can do it, but few can. Freelance consultants are experienced and expert, but can’t do everything, while at tech agencies you tend to less-experienced generalists on anything other than the huge retainers. So, we’ve come up with a new model.
We’re not a professional services marketplace, where you can find and hire a freelancer, or a traditional agency staffed mainly by employees, but a blend of the two.
So, it’s a ‘managed service’ as we have blended staff/ freelancer teams and a pay-as-you-go, results-based business model. We use technology to automate processes, so we can deliver work time-efficiently to a set spec and standard.
When should a start-up look to invest in PR?
PR tends to fall into two buckets: b2c publicity (getting your brand talked about where customers are) and b2b corporate communications (to influence people that matter, such as staff, investors, customers, business partners or whomever).
PR is attractive to early-stage start-ups because it has a disproportionately positive impact when done well. Being famous makes doing business easier.
But because start-ups are trained to gear marketing around a USP, the biggest misconception is that because a product is unique or best-in-class, or first, it will attract coverage. PR is not marketing.
Most journalists don’t care about brand positioning, products or USP. They want hard news that will impact their audience today, or easy, ready access to smart, charismatic, credible people who bring a qualified point of view to an issue.
Being a thought leader or expert in your category is a great way to build profile. But you need milestones to earn a platform to speak in the first place. This could be a decent amount of funding from a well-known angel investor, a significant partnership with a larger (better known) company, a rock star hire or an impressive growth number.
How important are relationships with journalists, given the number of tools available to issue press releases?
Tools take care of the mechanics of publishing and content distribution. Some admin can now be automated. But press releases are not stories – they’re simply a statement of a fact that allows you to tell a wider story.
If you have relationships with journalists, they come to trust you as a source and filter. This is why people hire agencies, as they have already built relationships, know what journalists need, and the agency name is the brand that gets your foot in the door.
That doesn’t mean to say that journalists will print anything just because it comes from a respected PR, they’re just more likely to reply.
How should companies decide how much to spend on PR versus other channels like advertising?
My main recommendation would be to read up what the likes of Mark Ritson, Les Binet, Peter Field and others have to say about marketing – get an experienced interim CMO or marketing agency to sort out your sales pipeline master digital marketing first – treat PR as a separate thing entirely.
But if PR needs to form part of a marketing budget, 10-20% of it is probably a decent rule of thumb provided the budget is big enough to buy enough PR to make it worthwhile.
In terms of budgets, £5,000 plus a year, is enough to deliver a few projects with freelancers, but keep coverage expectations low if you’re looking to get coverage for your own news and are not already a name. Below £40,000 a year is unlikely to land you a decent traditional retainer-based PR agency in my experience – but there are exceptions. £20,000 a year is OK for an agency like us.
Any practical tips for start-ups who don’t yet have enough money for PR?
The paradox in PR is that you need it most when you can afford it least. And the more famous you are, the more you can afford it, but the less you need it. Start by building your personal brand on social media.
Incubation programmes give you much of what you need to get started. We incubated PPR with Set Squared and remain on Basingstoke’s ROOT21 accelerator programme.
The investor pitch – the why, how and what – will help engage the right journalist. It also gives you focus for what you want to talk about.
Identify things happening in the real world and peg your narrative onto that. Some accelerators use a PEST analysis to identify external factors that may impact your business in future. It’s these external factors that journalists are interested in – this helps you to take a point of view.
That makes you easier to sell to journalists as a voice worth listening to, as and when you’re ready to invest in PR.