A Conversation with Jason Michael, VP Consumer Tech

July 6, 2020

Like our client Techstars, Barokas Communications abides by the motto of “Give First.” This rule of thumb manifests itself perhaps most visibly in the time we provide helping seed and early stage startups understand the why, the when and the how to engage with a PR partner.

Our guidance comes from more than 20 years working across the tech landscape, including the aerospace, AI, fintech, health tech, and sports and entertainment categories. We work with businesses right out of beta all the way to the NYSE. That said, our sweet spot is high growth tech startups.

We wanted to share some of these insights with you, our blog followers, so I asked our consumer tech guru, Jason Michael, to participate in a Q&A. Read on to hear Jason’s insights about everything from creating a trusting agency relationship to common misconceptions about PR itself.

Can you describe a typical engagement with a PR agency?
We’ve represented Techstars for years and one thing we’ve learned is no startup is the same, and no startup’s needs are in the same ballpark. The typical engagement is different for everyone. We always tell startups to never to lock themselves into a long-term contract, especially if they’re still early to market. Our baseline is typically a 3-month / $8K month retainer, but we’re incredibly flexible. A lot of times if the company or industry fits with our team’s passion and/or if we see a big opportunity for growth, we’ll find a way to customize the retainer and scope, growing with you as your needs expand.

How do companies determine if they are ready for a PR agency?
While it varies from company to company, there are a few things that typically hold true.

First, it makes sense for companies to manage their own PR when they are just starting out and don’t have the budget for a dedicated in-house PR person or agency. One way to support this is approach is by asking your investors for introductions to reporters with whom they have a relationship. This provides you with a warm intro and the opportunity to begin building relationships with members of the media.

If you’re at the stage where you have some budget or a large announcement, it typically makes sense to work with a freelancer or consultant on an hourly or project basis. An example of this might be a seed stage funding announcement or early product launch, where you want to place multiple stories in the media.

Once your company grows to the point where you have sustained activity, then you may want to consider retaining an agency to support your external comms. This approach typically includes a broader scope of work such as media relations, thought leadership, content development, influencer efforts, social media, awards and speaking. The benefits of this include a dedicated team that can bring relationships with your target media. You should also have a team that can consistently generate story angles in line with your company strategy and messaging.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to make sure you find someone who believes in what you’re doing. There’s no better partner than the one who is willing to get in the foxhole with you.

What do you believe are the keys to success for a PR agency?
The main thing we’ve found is to never treat the relationship as a vendor. Being incredibly frank and casual has always helped put everyone in the same mindset and at ease, which is where collaboration and good ideas come from. There’s nothing worse than setting unrealistic expectations and talking a big game, then working in fear to try and meet them. Nobody wins. Largely, showing that you’re just as invested in their success as they are is critical, which means overnight texts, Slacks and phone calls. So often startup founders are tired of “yes” men and women, and just want a sounding board and someone to be frank with them in that foxhole.

What misconceptions do startups often have about PR?
Often times, startup execs think anyone covering their space should be writing about them. The problem is, those reporters won’t give you the time of day if you’re only willing to discuss how great your company is. Instead of offering a unique and candid viewpoint, many executives only want to talk about one thing – what their company is selling. Startup founders need to establish themselves as a resource with an interesting point of view. The best way to do this is by creating content to hone their voice and showcases what they actually have to say. Getting their voice and takes out there are critical when starting out. Trying to wedge their name into a national conversation without anything that supports their expertise is an uphill battle. The good news is that you can also leverage this content across numerous other marketing initiatives. Ultimately, if you establish yourself as an expert in the category, you’ll get media coming to you rather than needing a PR partner to push your story out. So in the end, all of this advice comes back around to putting me out of a job. Might need to rethink this.

If you’re interested in an exploratory call with us and learning more about how we work, please email us at hello@barokas.com. We’re waiting to talk to you.


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