We recently hosted the WE Codeword team as part of our Kiln Lecture Series. For those who didn’t catch the event, you can rewatch the full recording, or read on for our abridged notes and most important takeaways. 


We Codeword is a PR and advertising agency specializing in content and messaging strategy. Their agency of about 80 team members handles PR strategy and more often than not, provides additional marketing support for clients. Kiln hosted founding partner, Kyle Monson, senior VP, Joshua Heath, and senior editor, Maya Kosoff. 


If you work on a startup business, here’s what you need to know: 


What is PR?

Public relations is all about building relationships with the public. When you hire a PR strategist, you can anticipate they’ll support your team when it comes to media coverage, social media, events/parties/networking, speaking opportunities, influencer partnerships, customer stories, investor relations, analyst relations, and crisis communications. 


What can PR do for your company?

At its best, and at its core, PR achieves growth for your business by building public awareness of your company. To do this, your brand will have to develop a public narrative, create stories for the media and customers, integrate your organization (sales, brand, C-suite) so that everyone is pulling in the same direction, and get on the radar of potential investors. 


Why should a startup use PR?

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to the media. We Codeword started off this discussion with a blanket statement: “The media is a mess right now.” In fact, US newspapers have lost 50% of their staff since 2008 and now more brands than ever are competing for the attention of fewer and fewer journalists and coverage outlets. Additionally, social media tools are growing and changing rapidly, and there’s a high degree of media turnover and consolidation. 


You might want to consider a PR firm to help you navigate a uniquely complicated and rapidly changing media landscape. 


What kinds of PR specialists are out there? What are the pros and cons of each type?


  1. DIY-ing your PR strategy: for a startup in its earliest stages, this is a good starting point and an effective way to save costs and teach yourself basic PR strategies. 


  1. Hiring an in-house PR strategist: this is a great way to develop your company’s media relations by hiring a dedicated team member. They will provide you with general help by devoting their full attention to PR, but they won’t be able to do a deep dive like a team associated with an agency could. 


  1. Hiring a PR freelancer or consultant: much like hiring an in-house strategist, this will definitely boost the number of hours your company spends on media relations. Similarly, however, this route may leave you hoping for more depth and breadth which could suffer because of the nature of their relationship to your company.


  1. Using your investor’s PR team: if your investor offers this sort of support, take advantage of it. Just don’t rely too heavily on them for consistency and hours per week because they likely manage a whole portfolio. 


  1. Hiring a local PR agency: these agencies provide a team, which in hand ensures more depth and breadth than any individual. Additional upsides include less overhead (than a larger, national agency), lower costs, and fewer contracts (other clientele). These groups also have a much better understanding of your geographic area, more relationships where your company is based, and may be a particularly good option for retailers and companies targeting local audiences. 


  1. Hiring a national PR agency: these groups have resources including a design team, journalist team, marketing team, content and management strategy team, and you can pivot and add or subtract services as needed. 


Do you want some secrets for hiring an agency?  We’ve got you covered. 


  1. Don’t be the smallest or largest client on the agency’s roster. You want the A-team but you don’t want to account for more than the agency can handle. This is a good rule of thumb. 


  1. Agencies take time and effort to manage - if you don’t have someone internally to manage the PR strategists, the relationship may become difficult. Oftentimes, it can be difficult for PR firms to work directly with a founder (and vice versa) because this relationship can take a lot of time away from more important problems the startup is facing. 


  1. PR agencies are all hiring from the same talent pool, so agencies are typically not that differentiated. Agency reputation matters, but what matters most is WHO is on your agency team. 


  1. If you don’t trust your account lead, you can “ask them off” and swap your account lead. It’s so much easier as a founder to replace your account lead than go through the whole PR agency search again. 


  1. The agency market is hot right now. Fair warning. At We Codeword, inbounds are overflowing. Why? The VC market is hot, too, which is what may be causing these downstream impacts. Your startup might not have the same bargaining power than you would have last year, so take this into consideration when establishing a relationship with an agency. 


  1. Establish a relationship built on mutual trust. Give a compliment once in a while to your agency team, and make sure you have someone who cares about your journey and becomes your ride or die. 


When is the right time to engage PR services?

If you work for a startup, you can ask yourself these questions prior to engaging with an agency or other PR service. If you’re struggling to answer these questions, know that most agencies will actually spend some time with you upfront to help you find the answers. This is part of their evaluation process, too! 


  1. Do we know who we are yet?
  2. Do we understand our sales cycle?
  3. Have we clearly defined our core customers?
  4. Do we have clear, measurable objectives in place?
  5. How robust is our news pipeline? Oftentimes startups want a piece of news published, but they don’t really know what they plan to announce yet.
  6. Do we have time to manage PR?
  7. How much budget do we have?


Once you make it through the above questions, you might be left thinking about some news that your startup has or will have to share with the world. As you think about your company’s news, it’s important to see if your story correlates or overlaps with what journalists consider to be newsworthy. 


What news is “newsworthy” in the eyes of journalists and PR strategists?

WE Codeword shared with us that journalists get excited to cover stories with: 

  1. Credible industry data
  2. News that impacts your customers or market
  3. Topical or timely news
  4. Themes including conflict, drama, tension, or surprise
  5. Emotional hooks
  6. A connection to the lives of their audience


Therefore, it makes sense that journalists admittedly don’t want to craft stories that focus primarily on: 

  1. Your founder/origin story (sorry)
  2. Topics they don’t otherwise cover in their journalistic work (do your research!)
  3. New product features and incremental company updates
  4. New hires, unless they’re celebrities
  5. Funding rounds, unless the journalist specifically covers funding rounds
  6. Jargon-laden pitches and quotes


All in all, We Codeword provided a comprehensive, rich insider look at PR strategy. The focus of this discussion was catered towards startups and early stage companies, though many of these points apply for larger groups as well. 


How can the Kiln team support my startup? 

In addition to our flex-office and shared coworking spaces, Kiln works to support startups, build community, and elevate lifestyle performance. Learn more about our health and wellness initiatives, programming and events, and other news. 


If you have any questions, comments, or suggested additions to these notes, our team would love to hear from you, and are happy to put you in touch with WE Codeword. 


Finally, be sure to check the Kiln Events page for upcoming lectures series and community-wide events.