I'm going to say something controversial.
One of the QUICKEST and EASIEST ways to gain awareness for your retail shop, or website is to get your brand and story out to the media.
Seriously. I've seen it work and for a way lower cost per impression that you would EVER see for TV, print, online.
However, it's not necessarily EASY for new brands sustain.
PR firms generally want to be on retainer
The goal of a PR, or marketing agency is to get your on retainer. Being that, they want you to pay them a monthly fee for their services ongoing.
Why? Sounds unfair right?
Well, no....most press is long-lead press... so it takes months to come to fruition. In that time, many PR reps are behind the scenes pitching and talking to the media about your brand.
You're not seeing results immediately but don't assume they're not working.
However, for a small startup, hiring a PR firm at $1,000 - $3,000 a month ongoing is really expensive. Think of that as margin dollars. To pay that back, you would need to double it likely.
As an example, last year I had a PR firm on retainer for my business, Encircled, so that cost all in last year, I made almost NO money during the month of February. This year, no PR firm, no retainer, all DIY, and not only are sales up over 40% but my profit is up a gazillion times (ok, not a gazillion but I haven't done the math on it!).
Unless you're backed by Daddy Warbucks, for retailers this can cause cash flow problemos.
For makers/creators, even more so as we're front the cost of the inventory AND the materials.
Think carefully and strategically when hiring a firm on retainer.
PR firms want to know everything
And again, they should.
They should be aware of your events, and attending and promoting them. Hence, why they are on retainer!
They should be liaising with media, even media they didn't procure.
They should be proactively seeking partnerships and helping develop out your marketing plan.
Most PR firms are not just media relations. They are everything nowadays. The line of marketing agency-consulting firm-PR firm-social media agency continues to blur. As all are related.
However, as a small business, keeping a PR agency in the loop, when you're having trouble maintaining your overflowing email inbox while maintaining a full-time job on the side and cooking dinner for your family might be too much.
Simplify if you can!
You can DIY press
Like many things when you're a startup retailer, you can DIY (do-it-yourself) for press.
Sure, it's not super professional and again efficiency may be an issue if you're working full-time but thanks to the glory of Google, you can find almost anyone's contact information for any magazine or TV, or blog.
Bloggers are the easiest partnership to DIY. Do not ever work with a PR firm for that unless they can get them for free.
But keep in mind your time, and what DIY PR is taking you away from.
Set aside some time every month to pitch to press. Keep it simple and to the point. Be compelling. Tell your story. Follow-up.
Build the relations even post-article so that you're top of mind when a new opportunity comes up.
Reach out for help - if you can afford an agency, great. If not, hire an Intern or part-time virtual assistant to do your pitching and following.
In this case, the squeaky wheel really does get the grease.
But, not everyone is comfortable pitching to press. If this is not your thing, make it your thing or HIRE it out. And before speaking to ANY press, get some media training. Google it. YouTube it. Whatever. There is a certain etiquette to dealing with press and definitely things you DON'T want to say to the media about your business.
What else you can do PR-wise
Fix your SEO and make your brand searchable for what you stand for, and again, be compelling.
The press don't like wishy-washy brands. They will seek out stories if they are meaningful to their audience.
Be persistent and think of their editorial calendar when pitching ideas and stories.
PR reps have the advantage of having existing relationships with the press. You're starting from ground zero.
NOT sounding like an informercial in your pitch will set you apart from 90% of the others.
Have you hired PR firm/help? Why or why not? Share it in the comments!