Before You Hire a Public Relations Agency

What companies and organizations should know before engaging with PR firms 

By Vanessa Wakeman

A few years ago, The Wakeman Agency was asked to bid on a PR campaign for a new hospitality group. We were very excited about this organization because they, at the time, had the potential to become game changers, firing up an industry and changing the way business is done. We put together a solid presentation and proposal, received great feedback from the executive team and felt fairly confident that we had a good chance of earning their business.

About a week after our presentation, I received a phone call from the CEO, stating that they thought we were a solid agency that could deliver, but ultimately decided to go with another public relations firm that had deep experience in their industry. Without much prodding, the CEO sheepishly admitted that the selected PR agency didn’t seem to be as enthusiastic as we were, but they certainly had the contacts and years of experience to achieve expectations. We ended the call on a good note, with me wishing the prospect luck with the new venture and committing to keep in touch; perhaps we’d have an opportunity to work together in the future.

About six months after that conversation, I received a follow-up call from the CEO. Less than 30 seconds into it, he blurted out, “We [screwed] up.” After I asked some questions, it became clear that they had gotten caught up in the “bigger is better” syndrome, thinking that the big firm with the big name and big-budget clients would be the best fit for them. In terms of PR firms, size doesn’t matter. Your primary focus should be finding an agency that is passionate about your project, understands your business and goals, and has good ideas about how to best execute your campaign.

Like a jilted lover, my initial instincts were to make them beg for forgiveness. Instead, I stayed professional and happily told him we’d love to have his company as a client. Over the years, we’ve built on the relationship, and we are as excited about having them as a client today as we were back then.

Hiring a firm to handle public relations for your business is a decision that you should not take lightly. The right agency will be a critical component in helping to shape and execute the communications strategy for your company or nonprofit.

Before we meet with a PR prospect, we give them a little homework. Here are some of the questions you should be prepared to answer before you hire a PR firm – plus a few to ask the firms you meet along your journey:

Internal questions

  1. What are your goals? Most entrepreneurs are all about goal setting. This practice should also be applied to your PR expectations. Prior to vetting potential PR partners, list your goals in simple terms to help firms understand what you want and need. This list will likely be modified once you select a firm, but having some initial criteria will help the agency understand what’s important to you.
  2. What does success look like to you? You should have a clear idea of what you would deem as a successful campaign and be able to communicate that to the selected firm.
  3. Who will serve as the spokesperson/people for the organization? Determine the person or people who can best tell the story of your organization and who will be committed to making time for media coaching, pre-interview prepping and ongoing interview requests.
  4. Who on your team will serve as the point person for the PR firm? Not designating an internal contact to manage the requests of a PR partner can significantly lower your chances of being able to act on opportunities in a timely manner.

Questions to ask your PR Partner

  1. What is your process? Every agency works differently. Ask them to provide some insight into their client communication process. Also, ask what you can expect in the first month of your engagement, as that is when most of the strategic work is being done to create the plan.
  2. Do you understand our business? Of course, this isn’t a question that an agency can likely answer in great detail during a first meeting, but prior to you signing on the dotted line you should have a comfort level that they “get you.” If not, how can they successfully communicate your story to the media?

Your PR partner will be an extension of your internal team. Look for a partner that is passionate about your story and understands how to tell it in a manner that will help you achieve your business goals.

Which other considerations have influenced your organization’s approaches in vetting PR agencies? How do you know when you’ve landed on the right partner – a public relations agency with which your company sees “eye to eye”? Share with us on The Wakeman Agency’s Facebook page.

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