5 Things to Consider Before Starting Your Own PR Agency
After years of in-house or agency work, you’ve decided to go out on your own and start your own public relations company. Make decisions on your own terms. Represent clients that fit your personal beliefs and passions. Shape your company from the ground up.
It’s exciting! But with all of these great aspects of starting your own business, there are many things that should be thoughtfully considered.
I definitely know: In December of 2010, I made the decision to start my own boutique public relations agency. After six years of working in-house for global corporations in the publishing, fashion, beauty, home, and luxury lifestyle industries, it was time to forge my own path—and Allyson Conklin Public Relations (ACPR) was born.
Starting out at just 28 years old and trying to navigate the worlds of entrepreneurship and small business, it would have been a game-changer to be handed a “Guide to Starting Your Own Public Relations Agency” (or at the very least, a checklist of important things to consider). Sure, there are the standard points to contemplate: Do you have the means and support necessary to start an agency? How will you design, build, and market your business? Will you be able to set both short- and long-term goals and use them to measure your success?
But there’s a lot more that you don't necessarily consider until you’re in the thick of things. Looking back, here are a few others things I’d advise mulling over before going out your own.
1. Do you have what it takes to run a business—from accounting and finance to operations to business development to administration?
As a PR pro considering heading out on your own, you’ve likely amassed a stellar clip book of placements spanning the course of your career.
But running a company is so much more than just excelling in your core service. On a day-to-day basis, my role can shift from accounts receivable to sales and business development to customer service to, of course, publicity. No, you don’t have to be a superstar in every single arena in business (math is not and will never be my strong suit), but you’re going to have to be willing to at least learn the basics for the sake of your success.
My advice here: Read as much as you can, talk to as many business owners as possible, and become completely invested in getting good at every aspect of being a small business owner.
2. Do you understand enough about the industry and your competitors to design services and set prices?
In your corporate life, you were handed a nicely wrapped package that outlined your job and monetary worth. Now, you actually have to share what you can do, how much you’re worth, and why.
And this requires a great deal of thought and investigation. I’d suggest investing in memberships to public relations organizations, which can be great resources for industry information via literature, webinars, and networking events. Also do detailed research on your competitors. What are they offering, and what does their pricing look like? If all else fails, find a trusted mentor—someone who is or has been at your size, in your industry, and at your level of expertise. He or she can be a great resource for navigating the pricing waters.
3. Do you have the contacts to help you get where you need to go?
In PR, you’re only as good as your contacts. But in addition to the media contacts you’ve made over the years, you need many more people in your Rolodex to be successful.
Think about it. You’ll need a graphic designer, a website designer and developer, a printer, an attorney, an accountant, and a mentor (or five)—and that’s just to get your agency off the ground. Like they say with raising children, it takes a village.
Looking back, there are three individuals who stick out the most to me as being instrumental in getting my agency off the ground: A creative and reliable graphic designer and developer who was able help me brand myself, a savvy accountant who helped me navigate the mind-swirling waters of starting an S. Corp instead of an LLC, and a small group of skilled mentors who dedicated countless hours to counseling me on topics ranging from when to hire my first employee to setting boundaries with clients—not to mention reassuring me that everything was going to be OK during the scary times.
4. What makes your company different than the other thousands of PR agencies out there, and how will you market yourself?
Here’s an important wakeup call: You know those publicists who’ve founded fantastic agencies, the ones you’ve admired for years? They’re now your competitors. And they’re just a handful of the thousands of public relations agencies out there!
So, it’s important to recognize—before you open up shop—how you will stand out among the competition. What makes your company different—is it your specialty? Will you offer other services that enhance the traditional public relations representation? Will you be recognized for your customer service?
Once you’ve determined your point of difference, also think about how you’ll communicate it to the world. Take that know-how directly from your work experience and apply it to your own company. For ACPR, identifying our niche in the beauty, home, design, and lifestyle industries made it easier to market ourselves: We identified our unique point of view and difference from our competitors; we meticulously designed company messaging to attract clients in these industries; we presented services based on a history of success for similar brands; and we aligned ourselves with companies that would give us added exposure in those arenas. By following our own strategic plan for success—something that we do on a daily basis for our clients—we were able to curate a list of clients that we were both passionate about and that made sense for the agency.
5. Will you be able to make decisions on your own, and can you function in a one-person team environment (at least for a while)?
One of the great things about PR is working on a team: The spontaneous brainstorming sessions, the extra pair of eyes on a press release, the getting a final sign-off on your decision by your boss. But when you start your own agency, it’s just you—so be honest with yourself about how you’ll be able to function as a one-person team.
In the early days, it was a big shift for me, going from the hustle and bustle of a busy office to the quietness of my office. But I tried my best to take it in stride, understanding that those daily latte trips just to be surrounded by a little noise and escape my inactive inbox were just part of the journey.
And soon enough, I found myself welcoming new clients, hiring remote contractors for support, getting on a plane nearly once a month for media trips and client visits, employing a bevy of eager interns, managing an overflowing inbox, moving into an office space (then moving into a larger office space), growing our client list to a level I had always dreamed of, and most recently, bringing on a talented employee to join me in the daily excitement. Somewhere along the way, I learned to trust myself and to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of owning a PR agency.
And guess what? You will, too.
Photos courtesy of Ashley Kidder at Urban Safari Photography.
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