No, you don’t need to hire an agency

The PR agency support model is broken for startups. There is another way.

Aaron Zamost
4 min readFeb 7, 2022

Dear Founders,

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you probably have product-market fit, a growing customer base, and solid early success. People are interested in who you are, what you’re doing, and — somewhat surprisingly to you — what you have to say. The pressure’s on. Now your investors regularly forward you stories about competitors with the subject line “Why aren’t we in this?” and your Marketing Lead is obsessed with getting “earned media.”

You decide you need a “PR strategy.”

So you hire an agency.


Over the next few months, your agency sends you program recaps with action phrases like “conducted outreach.” They draft long coverage reports that are primarily about other companies, and cite outsized stats re: the number of “impressions” you’ve gotten. In brainstorms, they repeatedly suggest the same three reporters. You’ve spent a lot of money, you haven’t seen much meaningful coverage, and you don’t have clear communications objectives. You want the last several months back.

Here is why the agency model does not work for you:

  • Agencies will never know your story as well as the people who live and breathe it full-time, every day. People inside your company will always know more and work harder than people outside your company, because they are deeply involved in its development and have real skin in the game.
  • The agency is totally dependent on you doing much of the work for them. They need case studies and connections to customers, constant updates, editing, and oversight. The dirty secret is that when they don’t land the press they promised, they often blame you for not giving them what they need to be successful. (In fairness, this is often true.)
  • The agency playbook is outdated — it is too heavily dependent on media relations to break through. Traditional PR is important, but given how crowded the startup ecosystem has become, you have to take a much broader view of communications (social, editorial, etc.) to be successful. This is not 2012.
  • Agencies frequently demand a long-term contract (many will only work with you if you agree to one year), and their billing models lead to waste you can’t afford. Most of their hours come from members of their team with the least experience.
  • You don’t know if what you’re paying for is moving the needle, let alone how to hold the agency accountable for results, because you don’t know how to evaluate good communications planning. That’s okay! It’s not your area of expertise.
  • After all this, you don’t own any media relationships yourself (the agency does), and you still don’t have anyone building this muscle inside your company.

The agency model is optimized for agencies, not for founders of scaling companies. Even when they are great at what they do (more arms and legs extend the capacity of your team), they are unlikely to solve your hardest problems. They are a band-aid. With few exceptions, you do not need to hire one.


Some of the best people I ever worked with got their start in agencies, honing their writing and pitching skills, and learning how to hustle. But ask any of them where they did their best work and the answer is always the same: when they went in-house. So you might as well put them there.

Instead of hiring an agency, bring the right first comms person into your company and start building the team.

To stand up a Communications function, you need to ask four questions:

  1. What are your top communications needs for the next 6–12 months? For example, do you need to build industry credibility? Or are you trying to develop traction in local markets?
  2. What kind of person has the right background and skills for the specific objectives you’ve identified? Do they need specific vertical knowledge? Corporate comms expertise? Not all PR people are the same. (Also, don’t call them “PR people.”)
  3. What level of experience is necessary to accomplish the above? If your first instinct is to open a req for a VP of Communications, you are almost certainly over-hiring.
  4. What is the best place for this person in the current org structure of your company? (It’s not always marketing.)

The answers will help you find the right person for your company, and their growth and success will lead to more questions. When is the right time to staff Internal Comms? Do you need to put a comms person in every market in which you operate? And why is everyone at the Wall Street Journal so salty? (We’ll answer those later.)

Agencies are not builders. You are. You built a product and a business. You built a codebase and a culture. Would you outsource product management or marketing? No, you would not.

So build your communications team. It’s how you scale every other critical function to grow your business. Your story deserves the same investment. 👷



Aaron Zamost

Starting a thing. Previously @Square @Google @YouTube @SolvHealth