Engaging a PR agency can be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated. If done right, having a group of public relations professionals in your corner can yield some impressive results in terms of brand perception and awareness, crisis and issues management, thought leadership, media management and communications strategy.
If done poorly, without sufficient due diligence, it can be a costly and inefficient exercise that can seriously set back the growth plans of an organisation. So, what should be the key considerations when looking for a PR agency?
How experienced is the PR agency?
Don’t underestimate the value of having an experienced PR team working for you. When meeting with PR agencies you should feel certain that they have the expertise to achieve your stated objectives confidently and efficiently.
Ask how long the public relations agency has been in operation. This will provide an indication of stability and history of success. Firms that cannot consistently deliver successful outcomes to their clients don’t stay in the industry for long.
How long have the individual team members been at the firm? A team with a long tenure also typically indicates cohesion and the ability to achieve successful client outcomes together.
Always gauge the seniority and experience of the PR professionals who will be representing your organisation. It is vital that there are seasoned staff on your account who can provide counsel and strategic recommendations backed up by years of personal experience across a range of situations. More senior PR professionals are also more likely to question certain decisions compared to those less experienced, who might be more inclined go along with the consensus of opinion.
Do they have a record of success?
You should always ask a prospective PR agency to provide case studies of its previous work and clips of media placements it has secured. Also enquire as to the journalists and publications with whom the agency has relationships.
Is the PR agency client focused?
You want to know that the PR agency has really listened to your objectives and has a plan in place to achieve them. A good firm will not only focus on meeting your objectives but take an entrepreneurial approach to consulting to come up with tactics that are fresh and unique.
Does the PR agency have a specialisation in your industry?
The PR agency that you hire should have first-hand experience in advising firms in your industry. There are huge advantages to hiring a firm with an intimate knowledge of the internal and external pressures confronting your business who can ‘talk the talk’. Ideally, the PR agency staff you deal with will have actually worked within your industry themselves.
Using the analogy of the medical profession, it’s like a specialist versus a GP. The generalist GP will not have the specific knowledge to treat all conditions. That is why GPs refer patients to specialists, who have chosen to become experts in a particular niche.
Are you able to meet the PR team you’ll be working with?
Some PR agencies, especially the larger ones, have dedicated pitch teams that they send out to pitch for new business. This is a problem for potential new clients as they are not able to get to know the people they would be working with. Be sure to ask for the actual team who will be working on your account to present the pitch, so you are able to ask them questions directly and better determine whether they can deliver on your objectives.
Is there chemistry with the PR team?
An external PR provider should essentially be an extension of the internal executive or marketing team. Given the closeness of the relationship, it is essential that there is a natural chemistry between the PR agency and the client. You don’t need to invite them to a candle-lit dinner, but you should have a sense that the PR firm shares the core values of your organisation.
PR providers will be privy to private and confidential information about your firm, so it is also essential that you feel you can trust your PR firm implicitly.