Working with start-ups is about more than budget

Start-ups can give agencies a lesson in how to work in more innovative ways, from how agencies are selected to prototype projects.

Start-ups: limited budget but plenty of innovation
Start-ups: limited budget but plenty of innovation

I totally agree with Liam Keough, who wrote on the PRWeek blog that engaging in a budgetary race to the bottom is both commercial suicide and a great way to devalue communications as a service.

However, PR should take its lead from the tech start-up environment when it comes to pricing models and structures.

Among the tech start-ups I work with, the focus is on delivering real value, quickly. The idea is simple – low-cost, low-risk prototypes that enable you to test the validity of an idea without burning through a ton of cash. Only if the prototype works do you then invest what is needed to take it full scale.

Most start-ups have limited funds to spend on promotion and what they have they need to spend wisely. Having to commit £50k to a PR campaign would put many off, especially if the agency is untested. Unlike more established companies start-ups cannot afford to write off funds.

This isn’t to say they shouldn’t commit the money, but perhaps agencies should consider offering smaller ‘prototype’ projects upfront to prove they can deliver what they promise.

Start-ups also have some interesting things to teach us about the whole process of selecting agencies. When you consider how much time and effort goes into the traditional RFP process, you have to wonder whether it is fit for purpose.

As the co-founder of one start-up remarked to me the other day when faced with yet another 50-page RFP document, surely it would be better to ask the supplier to complete a practical test that actually demonstrates their initiative, skill and creativity rather than showcase their ability to sell themselves?

Many of the big brands that we work with have already recognised that there is huge value in relationships with start-ups in terms of mutual learning, cultural shifts and innovation.

These go beyond simple commercial imperatives. Start-ups are not just about new products, they are also about new ways of working and PR agencies should embrace the opportunity to innovate.

Emma Sinden is head of corporate and technology at Ruder Finn

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