Public relations is a profession that can flex and stretch to fit a number of roles and business functions, including media relations, earned media, brand awareness, corporate communications, publicity. The list goes on and on. Depending on your business, your experience and interaction with PR can vary considerably.
Small and midsized companies often outsource their PR work entirely to agencies to control cost and payroll while still tapping into important opportunities for increased exposure and growth. On the other hand, enterprise businesses generally employ a dedicated PR team, which will hire and work hand in hand with the company’s PR agency to, among other things, execute broader organizational objectives, conduct media outreach, assist in crisis communications and develop key messaging and more.
But every business, every industry, every CEO and every marketing/communications/PR team is different – and, therefore, has their own unique set of needs and goals for a PR engagement. So how do you determine if a specific PR agency isn't just good at what they do, but is the right fit for your business?
While finding the right agency can often feel like spinning a roulette wheel, it doesn't have to. Asking a few key questions up front and knowing what to look for in an agency's responses can go a long way toward helping identify an agency that can deliver and help contribute to your company's broader objectives. Some questions you should be asking include:
How are you going to get us covered if we don’t have a lot of news?
This is crucial. Not every business has a steady stream of important product or organizational news to drive coverage. Even the biggest companies will have lulls. You want to find a PR agency that won't use company announcements as a crutch, or as the sole driver for enhancing your visibility and media presence.
Pay attention to how they plan to make you a part of broader media stories in your industry, in your local markets or otherwise of interest to your target audience. Are they planning to establish a thought leadership program to proactively develop and drive content creation that isn't dependent upon the organization announcing a new product or service? An experienced, well-balanced PR firm will be prepared with a holistic approach to enhancing visibility for your business that won't require you to continually provide organizational news for them to secure coverage.
What industries do you generally serve or have experience in?
Inquire if the PR agency you're considering specializes in your industry or any other specific industry. If not, don't write them off just yet. In that case, you'll want to follow up to see examples demonstrating that they have the track record, tools and skill set necessary to achieve success work across a variety of verticals, regions, etc.
If the agency has experience in your industry, make sure there won't be any current or potential conflicts of interest. This may seem unlikely, but it's more common than you might think and agencies don't like to turn down work. So, it’s imperative that you make sure you are comfortable with their existing client roster.
You also want to be careful of agencies that have a core focus on an industry different than your own. While non-specialized PR agencies are often adept at moving between industries successfully, a specialized PR agency with a core competency outside of your industry may not have the right tools, contacts or knowledge base necessary to navigate entering a new industry.
How will your work tie in with our marketing and social media efforts?
The right PR agency will tailor their approach to help you achieve broader marketing and organizational objectives. Strategically aligning PR goals with the rest of the business is the most effective way to realize tangible results from a PR program. However, PR is a business function that can often be siloed and left to run independently of the rest of the company. This can be even more common when working with an agency. Look for an agency that will proactively work to integrate with your team and provide strategy and deliverables that clearly match the company's broader vision for success.
What would the first couple months look like if we engaged with you?
The speed at which a PR agency can get a program up and running for their clients can vary significantly. Some agencies will plan to gather the necessary assets, have a plan mapped out and begin execution within a couple of weeks. Conversely, some agencies will take months to secure resources, put a strategy together, create messaging and media lists before taking the next steps and moving forward with your PR program.
If you're a smaller company, you may not have the luxury of paying for months of PR services before the program is rolled out. If you're a larger business, you may have more flexibility in terms of timing but you'll still want to know that your monthly retainer is going to good use in these early months if you won't be seeing tangible results during that time.
Taking the time and care to put the right PR team and program in place is the single most important decision you'll make with regard to your company’s media relations program.
Asking these four questions may not give you all the insight you need to determine the right agency and program to meet your specific needs, but it should serve as a valuable baseline to help narrow the field and frame your expectations for the team you do ultimately select.
The good news is there are a lot of great agencies out there just waiting to help increase your organization's media visibility and profile. Keep these questions in mind during your search and you'll have a great chance to find the perfect fit for your business.