Companies sign on with public relations agencies for a variety of reasons. You might use an outside firm to increase customer and investor awareness, launch a new product, or build your corporate image. Whatever your reasons, before you select a PR firm, you’ve got to do some legwork.
Marketing and public relations have become very important ways to stay competitive in any industry, but it’s not always necessary to hire an outside firm. Before you look for one, make sure to clearly define your PR objectives. Agencies do a lot more than tell your story to the press — they can write speeches, find statistics, create newsletters, and handle crisis control. You have to know what to expect from any firm before you consider picking one. See What Organizations Will Handle PR for Small Businesses for advice on finding PR firms that suit your company.
Here are four logistic issues to consider before you choose an agency:
- Money. Would it be cheaper to hire someone in-house?
- Proximity. Do you need an agency that is located near your own business? How often will you need to meet in person?
- Expertise. Do you need an agency that specializes in your industry, or one that serves growing businesses?
- Experience. How long has the agency been in business? How much repeat business does it earn?
To find contenders for your business, research the Internet or local publications that may provide directories or lists of PR firms in your area. Set up meetings with the agencies that seem appropriate.
If you’ve ever dealt with the media in the past or know any journalists, use your contacts to check out the agencies with whom you might want to work. (Tip: Don’t call them when they’re on deadline.) Ask the reporter, in confidence of course, if he or she has ever dealt with anyone from that agency. Do they typically return calls promptly? Can their account executives answer routine questions about their clients? Do they designate particular contacts within the company for specific stories? Do they call with story ideas at the proper time? Does the agency have a certain reputation, a history of being called in during a crisis, or a long list of clients in certain industries?
For additional advice about working with a PR firm, make sure to read Tips on Working with a PR Firm.
Use these insights to develop better questions for the firms when you meet with them. After you have chosen a handful of candidates, ask to view their work. If you don’t understand their written releases, chances are reporters won’t either. Look for clean, error-free copy with dates and contact information. Also look for a clear description of what the subject company does.
You’ll also want to call other clients of the firms that interest you. If another company had problems with an agency, you don’t want to take your business there. Ask for the agency’s strengths and weaknesses; also ask how responsive employees are to the client’s phone calls and questions.
As with any outside consultant, you’ll want to nail down who at the agency will handle your account. You need to feel comfortable with this person and their expertise. If you dislike working with them, you won’t get your money’s worth out of the deal. There are plenty of PR agencies in your area that would love your business — find one you like.