The right PR can transform your marketing, increase brand awareness and help drive sales, but as a start-up or small company it can be difficult to know where to start. PR requires specific skills, contacts and experience that you’re unlikely to find amongst your existing team. Instead, it’s usually best to bring in specialist support, to ensure you achieve the kind of results you’re looking for.

Once you’ve made the decision to invest in PR, you need to decide whether to recruit a new member of staff, hire an external agency, or find an experienced freelancer to help you. Each has its pros and cons and there is no right or wrong answer; the decision will depend on the stage your business is at, your objectives and, crucially, the budget you have available.

So to help you figure out the best route for you, here’s a rundown of the different options.

In-house PR ManagerThe main benefit of hiring an in-house member of staff is the dedicated focus and support it will give you. A full time PR Manager is able to build up a deep understanding of the business and your brand, as well as develop strong relationships with you and your key people. This approach can also have its advantages when dealing with the media, enabling you to ‘own’ these relationships more personally.

Having said that, the practicality of hiring a PR manager depends heavily on the stage your business is at, and the budget you have available. It’s a significant commitment, and a reasonable financial outlay, that is likely to be difficult for many small businesses.

You also need to think about the level of activity you actually need and if a full-time, or even part-time, internal PR resource is really necessary. For most small businesses, this level of support would be overkill and many opt to hire a more general marketing resource internally, to be supported by more specialist, external support when required.

PR agencyIn contrast, hiring an agency gives you a whole team of support, with a diversity of skills, specialisms and seniority, to deliver a holistic and comprehensive PR service. With a pool of talent, knowledge and contacts at their disposal, agencies have their finger on the pulse in terms of new innovations and are a melting pot of creative ideas. So if you’re looking to develop more complex and cutting edge campaigns, they can be a good option.

There are agencies to suit a range of budgets, but on the whole they are likely to be on the expensive side for most start-ups and small businesses, with fees allowing for the overheads that come with providing a broader service. A quick Google search will bring up a fair few horror stories of small businesses who’ve been burnt using PR agencies and this usually comes down to a mismatch between expectations and delivery. In many cases, what seems like a lot of money for you might not actually translate to many hours for an agency, and you could end up feeling short-changed.

If you do have a limited budget, it can be more economical to work with an agency on a project, rather than a retained basis, enabling you to focus all your cash on one specific campaign (a product launch for example). Or it may be that using freelance support is a better route, until your needs and budget have matured.

Freelance supportMarketing and PR has always been a popular area for freelancers, with many experienced professionals choosing to go it alone, armed with their laptop, smartphone and contacts book. These experienced, flexible, often remote workers are a valuable source of talent, offering cost-effective expertise for those not ready to commit to a full agency. New technology makes it even easier to find and work with freelance talent, although make sure anybody you work with is fully vetted before you start work.

Freelancers usually have a number of years’ PR experience under their belt, so you’ll benefit from a similar level of expertise and industry knowledge as you would in agency staff. There are also growing opportunities to work with a team of freelancers who can collaborate to offer a full service like an agency, but without the overheads. And if you don’t want to manage the individual relationships yourself, you can bring in a lead freelancer to keep everybody on track.

When working with individual freelancers, it’s important to be realistic about what they have the capacity to deliver on their own, so make sure you provide with them a defined brief and clear expectations, along with the support they need from your team.

What are you waiting for?The great thing about PR is that it is easily scalable and there’s a way to make it work for any business. If you’ve never done PR before then a small project with a freelancer can be a great place to start, without breaking the bank. Then as your business grows, you can alter your approach to match.

By Alice Weightman, founder and CEO, The Work Crowd