Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re thinking about hiring a public relations firm to get the word out about your business. Or maybe you had a not-so-great experience in the past and are now ready to look for a new agency. Whether you’ve worked with a PR firm or not, due diligence is incredibly important.
We’ve been on both sides of the relationship and know that doing your homework, checking references, and asking the right questions can make all the difference. While you’ll probably have all kinds of questions of your own to ask, here are six to help you get started during the agency evaluation process:
1 . What’s your past experience in my industry? Industry experience can pay off and it should be one of the first things you consider when working with a PR firm. Not only will the firm have good relationships with media in your industry, they should also know who the key influencers are on social media and be able to leverage those relationships on your behalf.
2. What kind of results did you achieve for other clients? The firm you’re considering should easily be able to point to case studies and results from other clients. Are they giving you clear results and numbers? They should be able to articulate exactly what the company’s goals were and how they contributed to those goals.
3. Will the “pitch” team be the same as the actual team that works on my account? Some larger firms will bring in the top brass to wow potential clients and then hand off the account to more junior staff. That’s fine as long as the more seasoned account managers are keeping a close eye on the work that’s being done for you. Ask who will be your day-to-day contacts and what prior experience they personally have in your industry. Do as The Huffington Post suggests, and consider a PR team the same way you would a new hire. Would they make the cut? Do they fit into your company’s culture not only professionally but also personally? They’ll be a major part of your team, so chemistry is important.
4. What are your rates? We know, we know. Talking about money can be uncomfortable. But it’s absolutely necessary that, before signing a contract, you understand what’s included, the budget, duration, who will be working on your contract, how many hours the agency will be working on your account each month, and how results will be reported. You can generally expect a return on investment anywhere from two to five times what you paid the firm, according to the Council of Public Relation Firms, so take that into consideration when reviewing the contract and the firm’s rates.
5. How will we measure success? Success in the PR world is often measured by media placements and increased followers on social media pages. But it’s often best to find a firm that will look beyond these types of metrics. Can they increase your website or blog traffic? Grow your prospective client list? Help you build important business relationships? How else can they help your business grow?
6. What will you need from me? A successful PR agency-client relationship should be collaborative. There will be meetings, brainstorming sessions, and plenty of emails and phone calls–especially at the beginning of the engagement. A good PR firm will want to spend time getting to know your business, your goals, and your expectations. They may even seem a little needy, but that’s a good thing. You may be hiring a PR firm, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be involved in your own PR. Quite the opposite. You’ll probably find yourself spending more time on PR efforts as your new firm gets acclimated. Find out what a potential PR firm will expect from you in terms of availability and a time commitment. If you’re not willing to put in the effort, it’s probably not a good time for you to hire an agency.
As you mull over these questions, also think about whether or not you’ve considered all of your options. Decide what is the most effective way to handle your PR strategy. Hiring a firm is the first option, but can any of the work be done in-house? You may find that your strategy will be a combination of the two, and usually they’ll work together. An internal PR person has the brand and product knowledge, as well as access to people within your company that can help with strategy and execution. That person can work hand-in-hand with a PR firm to ensure success. Hiring a PR firm ensures that your message is properly pitched, professionally composed and directed through the proper channels, and makes sure that the proper follow-up attention is given.
Working with a PR firm isn’t for every business, but having a good PR firm in your corner can help generate awareness, keep you in the media spotlight, grow your customer base, and keep you one or two steps ahead of your competitors. Just be sure to do your due diligence and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions before signing on the dotted line.