To help shape the odds in your favour you need to do PR. If you want to hire an agency, how do you choose the right one? Hiring a PR firm can be a daunting prospect and not finding the right PR representation can be costly.
PR is a powerful tool. You have to 'touch' potential customers repeatedly – some say as many as seven times – before they'll buy. PR is a great way to do that by reaching your audience via the media they consume and the best PR is hardly noticeable, although we're surrounded by it every day. In some countries, including the US, there are more PR professionals than there are journalists, so they have a huge impact on the media.
With so much PR noise, it's important to stand out. Relationships are gold – it's called public relations for a reason – and placing a story in the right place, at the right time for the right reasons can be more difficult and time consuming than you'd think. PR is not just writing a press release and hitting 'send' on the email. PR is a process and it takes time.
Here are some tips to consider when hiring a PR firm
1. Set clear SMART goals
These will, of course, be in alignment with your business plan. The PR firm will need to fully understand where you are, where you want to be and your proposed strategy for getting there.
2. Make sure values are in alignment
Do your research and ask for recommendations. PR firms come in all shapes and sizes. Be sure to do your due diligence. It's most important to understand whether the agency's values are in alignment with your own. This should become clear as you go through your due diligence process and interviews.
3. Be clear about your budget
Be clear about your budget and how you want to spend it. Big, global agencies might have an impressive global reach, but they also command higher retainer fees, whilst boutique agencies will be more niche and targeted and often more flexible in fee structure – retainer, pay as you go, pay by results.
4. Code of Conduct
Many countries around the world have professional membership bodies for PR practitioners and PR firms. Check out their websites for lists of members. This is not always a guarantee of quality, you must still do your own due diligence, but at least it shows accountability as the agency or practitioner must adhere to a clear Code of Conduct and you can always make an official complaint against them if you feel that in their dealings with you they are breaching the Code.
5. Be open
Being open is a two-way street. Upon initial contact with a prospect agency be open about what you're looking for, what you expect from the agency, what keeps you up at night, what is unacceptable to you, etc. In return, the PR agency must be willing to give an open and honest evaluation of your situation and highlight any potential obstacles or conflicts of interest. You need to view the agency as a part of your team in order to get the most from the relationship. Walk away from any agency that doesn't hold this view.
6. Short pitch list
Invite no more than three agencies to pitch. Insist that whoever will be working on the account be present at the pitch. Chemistry is important. You must meet them all to know you like them and ensure that their values are in alignment with yours. Are you happy for them to represent you to the outside world? Do you like at least one idea that they've come up with for you?
7. Expect to be educated
With a good PR firm you'll feel like you're learning from them, from the initial contact. Their approach will be consultative and they'll give you great advice and tips. Sometimes we don't know what we don't know, and a good PR firm can present you with a fresh perspective that opens up new possibilities.
8. Contracts and payment
Go through the contract carefully and challenge it. Make sure you fully understand and agree how the fee structure works, the goals set, the measurement tools to be used and the expected results. Have your lawyer read any contract. Always pay your invoices on time if you expect the PR firm to keep their press office function open to you and remember that cash flow issues can cause problems for boutique agencies and independent practitioners.
9. Be inclusive
Once you've hired your PR firm, be inclusive. Share as much with them as you possibly can and invite them to relevant meetings and events. It can be hugely valuable to both parties to include the PR firm in your company's sales meetings and great PR professionals can make a valuable contribution at Board meetings.
10. Regular check-ins
Schedule regular check-ins to monitor progress, results and your happiness barometer. Always speak out when there's something you like or dislike. If you feel they've gone off the boil, say so. If you love working with them, say so. Working with a PR firm should be enjoyable, so be sure you're enjoying the process.