When the average person thinks of public relations, his mind jumps to those “oh, crap” moments that people see on the news. This just in: The CEO of some company stiffed a waiter on a tip for a $500 meal, and the world is outraged. There’s now a news crew camped out on the sidewalk of his house 24 hours a day.

While strategic PR is certainly valuable during a crisis, it isn’t exclusively reserved for reacting to disasters. And PR isn’t restricted to Fortune 500 companies, either. In fact, there’s a lot a PR firm can do for your company, whether it has three employees or 3,000.

Public relation
photo credit: Niuton Ray

Let PR Work for Your Company

One of the best ways to differentiate your company is by crafting and perfecting your brand’s story. While a marketing agency or an in-house team can help you define what differentiates you from your competition, a PR firm helps you strategically share that story through the media.

That exposure can boost brand awareness, drive sales, and cement your position in the market. Better yet, PR firms can help you net venture capitalist funding, drive partnerships, and attract high-quality applicants as you grow. That’s because the vast majority of people trust earned media over paid advertising.

All the companies you know and love have probably used a PR firm at some point. But the tricky part is knowing when your company is ready to graduate to the next step and hire a firm of its own.

I tell potential clients that there are a few things that they need to consider before searching for a PR firm. If these five things aren’t already in motion, then your company probably isn’t ready to hire a firm:

1. You know what you want to achieve

Sure, every company wants $1 billion in seed funding tomorrow. Realistically, what does your company want to accomplish? Do you want to sell 10,000 more units by the end of the year? Gain a strong foothold in your industry? Acquire VC funding? Whatever the case may be, make sure you have a roadmap to guide your business. If your company is still in the ideation phase, pump the brakes on PR for now.

2. You’ve established a narrative

How is your company different from others? What’s your key message? How are you positioned in your field? Successful PR efforts will communicate your established brand story to the world.

3. You’re patient

Effective PR programs don’t develop in a week. For a proper long-term and comprehensive PR strategy, you should expect to work with a PR firm for a minimum of three months. Can you afford to wait for success?

On a similar note, if you’re more than six months away from launching, you need to hold off on PR. Start thinking about bringing on a PR firm two to four months prior to launch.

PR strategic planning
photo credit: pinkpurse

4. You have internal resources to help

PR isn’t something you can set down and forget about. Get ready to spend at least two to three hours per week on PR to succeed. As the founder, if you’re wearing the sales, development, and designer hats all at once, you probably don’t have the time or manpower needed to work with a PR agency.

5. You can get out of your comfort zone

Getting companies out of their comfort zone is precisely what a good PR firm can do. The right firm will push you to make stronger statements, evolve your brand voice, and partner with a marketing team to collaborate on new campaigns and publicity stunts. These will likely be completely different from anything you’ve tried before, so ask yourself whether you’re ready to try something new.

PR isn’t just for long-established companies or companies in crisis mode — done right, it can help companies of all sizes establish a strong voice within their industry, attract new customers, and one-up the competition.