Cover photo: Starting your own PR agency
 · 13 min read · November 9, 2023

​​Starting Your Own PR Agency: How to Start a Public Relations Company

Alison Guthrie

Let me begin with a bit of honesty. I didn’t want to start a public relations company amid a global pandemic. Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have. We can all agree it wasn’t an optimal time to do so. Launching my own agency would’ve been crazy, and I guess that tells you almost everything you need to know about me. 

Am I creative enough to run an agency? Undoubtedly. Did I have even a single ounce of business experience necessary to do so? Absolutely not! Did I even consider the learning curve COVID-19 was throwing me? Ignorance was bliss. 

However, when the public relations world shuttered due to COVID-19, and my toddler was sent home from preschool indefinitely, I needed to pivot. Fast. My long-term partner — a lawyer — recognized this harrowing fact much faster than I. 

I could dedicate an entire editorial to the details surrounding how my agency actually came to be. However, the most important part is that I didn’t start it. No way. I woke up one morning to the legal documents of my own, shiny new agency in my inbox — a gift from my partner. I had more apprehension than excitement. 

I had talked for years about owning my own agency. I just wasn’t ever going to take the steps to do it. My partner knew this. He threw me off a cliff by forming the company and gifting it to me. It was sink or swim. The choice was mine.

Apparently, I figured it all out. It wasn’t, however, without a lot of help, major learning curves, and a shoulder to cry on once or twice. (That’s a lie. I’ve cried way more than twice.)

Since that day in May 2020, I have not only started a PR agency, I’ve taken AG Influence international—now repping clients in nearly every time zone in the world. I’ve made Arianna Huffington’s list of “Rockstar Publicist”, traveled around the world supporting clients, secured major network deals, seen my clients with major brand deals, increased client monthly revenue YOY more than 500%, and was just asked to be co-owner of a second agency. 

I did all of this during a global pandemic and while adjusting to this new world we now live in. 

Opening an agency during the pandemic has been the greatest thing I’ve ever done for myself. I can’t recommend it enough. So, if you’re sitting on the fence, craving a different life amid this different reality post-pandemic, do it. Do it scared. Do it apprehensively. Do it fearfully. Take a page from Nike and just do it. 

Since I know you’re going to follow my example and jump off the cliff into the amazing world of agency ownership, I’ve compiled a list of advice I wish someone had told me on that day in May amid a global pandemic. 

So, here it is — the good, bad, and hard advice on launching, and scaling, an international agency amid this strange new world:

How to start your own PR agency

Let go or get dragged

I started my own PR agency believing I was only going to represent local small business owners. This is what I was going to do. Period. 

But, the entrepreneurial gods had different plans. Today, I represent mega social media influencers and businesses in the aviation and travel industry around the world. 

While many entrepreneurs start a company believing it will look one way, the companies that actually survive have one thing in common— they are open to evolution.

Starting your own PR agency will be the hardest part. You can dig your heels in and demand it look the way you envisioned, or you can be open to your company evolving into what it was always meant to be.

More likely than not, your company will evolve into the best version of itself. Allow this evolution to happen. If not, you’ll probably get dragged on a pretty bumpy ride until you decide to let go.

Admit defeat immediately 

There is an undefeated champion of our world. It’s not you. It’s not me. It’s time. 

Time wins every battle, every day. If you need a reminder, look no further than the pandemic. COVID-19 has proved this over and over again. Time will run out on us in the most sorrowful ways. While simultaneously, time can outlast you. It can stretch out indefinitely while we beg for it to end. 

Time is generous, cruel, painstakingly slow, or rapid. It’s just never what you need it to be. The faster you grasp this as an agency owner, the easier your journey will be. 

Starting your own PR agency will require you to admit defeat against time immediately. There will never be enough time or, ironically, there will be just too much of it. (Got too much time at the end of your monthly income? Yeah...we’ve all been there). 

Managing the time you do have is key. When you start a PR company, you will wear all the agency hats. 

  • Brand development
  • Marketing 
  • Social media development and management
  • Bookkeeping/Financial 
  • BOB development/sales
  • Exercise/Self-care
  • Family member
  • Partner
  • Parent
  • ….you get the idea

Running any business can be a 24/7 job if you allow it to be. Owning a public relations company is even more time-consuming, I promise. Public relations can already be a 24/7 job. You will need to set hard boundaries with clients — and yourself — of what time you’ll allow for your business. Then be selfish with the time you need for yourself and your family.

Opening your own agency isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. Go out too fast and you’ll burn out just as quickly as you started. Admitting that time is not on your side immediately will help you set these boundaries. Along with proper time management for work-life balance, it will set you and your agency up for maximum success. 

Start as you wish to succeed

I’m creative. I mean, super creative. Out of this world, creative. I want to brainstorm creative campaigns and edit creative assets all day long. I want to write creative copy. I want to reach out to my contacts and have coffee to discuss my creative ideas. 

When it comes to right-brained vs. left-brained, the analytical, organized side of my brain is pretty much non-existent. I do not want to balance my books or set up project management tools. Ever. And you can totally forget about me sending invoices or actually filing paperwork where it should go. Not a chance. 

Take it from me, as a creative, it is even more imperative that you immediately set up your agency in ways that will allow you to succeed, be organized, and grow seamlessly.  Incorporate the software and practices that will allow you to thrive. Do not wait until it’s too late, and you’re drowning in overwhelm.

Here is a list of the tools I have (eventually - while kicking and screaming) implemented to ensure my agency is running itself, staying organized, and supporting me and my goals.

1️⃣ The appropriate legal paperwork for your agency. You have no idea how many times you’re going to need the legal paperwork of your organization — starting immediately. While you can hire a law firm to file the paperwork correctly, there are other ways to set up your agency for far less money. 

2️⃣ Apply for a business bank account. I didn’t do this immediately and I regret it immensely. There are some amazing business bank accounts out there that boast accounting software systems attached, credit cards, perks, and software integrations that come standard, like PayPal, Stripe, and Shopify. 

Also, steer clear of big banks, with big requirements (or fees) to have and keep a bank account. In today’s online world, there are some amazing online-only banks — and yes, FDIC backed — developed specifically for entrepreneurs doing business locally or internationally. I’ve chosen Novo for several business accounts and have been extremely happy. 

3️⃣ Choose PR CRM software immediately. Look, we do not need to go over my creativity or right-brained personality traits further. You understand and probably even identify with me. You must have specific PR software to support you.

Once I realized I needed a quality CRM system, I chose Prowly. Beyond a CRM system, specifically for PR agencies, it just makes sense for me as a small business owner. It also has amazing tools to help me grow my agency. I don’t feel as alone in the big world of PR with Prowly on my side.

From the media contact tools, press release creation and distribution, and pitching tools, Prowly just makes my life easier and makes me more successful, period.

Example of a media list created in Prowly

While there are additional systems to set up as a brand new agency owner, these three things will absolutely ensure you’re stepping out on the correct foot.

And don't be scared of using AI - just make sure you introduce it to your PR agency ethically.

No one is looking at you 

As a new agency owner, I wanted to ensure my brand and professionalism relayed the messages I am passionate about. This is a great concept but can quickly lead to unwarranted, and frankly ridiculous, comparisons. 

I’d worry constantly about every social media post I made, every email I sent, every word I put into the world. I compared myself, and agency, to every other publicist and agency out there. I only saw other agencies achieve success after success. Why wasn’t my 6-month-old agency also bringing in these types of million-dollar successes?

Here is the hard truth I’ve learned: no one else is looking at you, comparing themselves to you, or even really cares. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Other agencies want you to win, are happy to cheer you on, and will even lend a helping hand should you just ask. Do not allow fear or comparison to stop you from showing the world your greatest gifts, agency, or authentic self.

Your excuses are invalid

George Washington was right, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”  I tend to believe all excuses are bad. 

I started a PR agency for the cost of an LLC and a domain name. In a COVID world, where everyone has gone digital, and anything and everything is at our fingertips via our computers, there is no excuse as to why opening your agency will not work. Sadly, there is also no excuse as to why you won’t succeed. 

Don’t have clients? Join free Facebook networking groups. Need help? Join free PR virtual groups. Don’t know how to build a website? Watch a free YouTube video. Don’t know how to build a funnel? Sign up for a free course. Need to have more time to handle the workload? Use free scheduling apps to optimize working time. Your toddler at home has asked for 345 snacks in one hour, and you haven’t been able to finish one email? Download streaming services. Have a question about running a business? Yeah, there is a TedTalk on that. 

See how this works? 

However, throughout the course of opening my own agency, there has been one little tool that has become my secret weapon. It is an amazing resource and can provide any information you could ever want to know or learn. I’m going to reveal it here, but this is a secret, so be careful with whom you share this information. 

This amazing tool is… Google. Literally. It is a free resource that you can use to search for anything you need to know. It’s free. Also, if your excuses weren’t invalid before, they just became so. 

So, tell me again, why haven’t you started your own public relations company?

Don't ring the bell 

The hardest training regiment in the world is known to be the United States Navy Seals program. The training program to become a Navy Seal is designed to be the most physically challenging program in the world with the goal of “weeding out” the weakest links. Only the toughest, best, most resilient soldiers become Navy Seals. 

It’s common knowledge that within the Navy Seals’ training facility sits a massive gold bell. When a soldier wants to quit the training program, all they have to do is ring that bell. They must walk to the center of the training facility, ring the bell, and publicly acknowledge defeat. Only once they’ve done this are they free to give up. 

When I’ve wanted to quit on this journey, my partner asks me, “So, you’re ringing the bell?” 

Just the mention of the bell ignites further passion in my belly and I can feel my teeth grind. I’m never going to ring that bell. I’m not a quitter. This is the promise I’ve made to myself.

Make the promise to yourself, too. Don’t ring the bell. Don’t ever, ever ring the bell. No matter how hard owning an agency seems. No matter how frustrated or overwhelmed you become. Do not ring the bell. 

Learn to pivot, allow evolution, find greater support from your peers, compare yourself less, download another free how-to, find another supporting software. 

While there are a million more tips and tricks that I would love to share about starting a PR agency in this new, digital world, these are the most important.

I wish you massive success and abundance if you choose to start a PR agency in 2023. Provide yourself a tremendous amount of grace, remember others are there if you need them, but above anything else, commit to never ringing the bell.

Cover photo by Alizée Baudez