Signs It Might be Time for Your Nonprofit to Hire a PR Agency

Partnering with external PR firm – a viable strategy in effective nonprofits’ toolboxes

Organizational public relations teams – no matter the industry, sector, mission or size – sometimes benefit from external, value-added expertise. Engaging with an outside PR agency bolsters resources, increases bandwidth and offers relief.

External PR firms provide the extra talent and skill that may not merely help to make staff members’ jobs easier, but also render the team and organization more effective and successful.

“When a nonprofit’s internal marketing, PR or communications team begins to think about bringing in extra help, there are often some common denominators involved,” says Vanessa Wakeman, founder and CEO of New York City-based public relations firm The Wakeman Agency. “Whether for a short-term project or a sustained engagement, some of the most effective and productive staffs of PR professionals have, at one time or another, leveraged a PR agency to foster greater, faster or more sustained success.”

Here are some cues that an internal PR team might be ready to consider bringing on an external firm:

Launching Something New. Developing a new campaign? Trying to kickstart a new initiative? Going after a brand-new audience? Then now may be an opportune time to engage a PR firm. A partnering public relations agency can facilitate the planning, develop or co-create the strategy, execute the launch and provide post-project intelligence that helps your team with future such initiatives. Additionally, teaming with a PR agency can free up your staff to continue with their usual workload – lessening the toll a major campaign or novel initiative can have on manpower and resources.

Running on Empty. If you’re like a lot of nonprofit organizations, you’re operating with a lean communications staff – and that’s if you’re fortunate enough to have an official PR department. Individuals on internal PR teams with charitable organizations often wear many hats. The lead copywriter is probably also the newsletter editor and occasional webmaster. The graphic designer might also be acting creative director and part-time photographer. Even the department’s leader likely proofs copy, writes intranet content or scours image libraries for just the right photo.

If your organization’s PR team is practically running on fumes, and you have some specific, lofty and strategic goals to accomplish, now might be the time to bring on a hired gun.

Out of Ideas. Your organization’s PR team meets regularly to discuss projects, action items and progress. You even have special planning days and strategy sessions focused on brainstorming and mining for the next great idea that will move your cause forward. Your PR team has contributed to the nonprofit’s five-year plan, led the charge to redesign the logo and even championed a reworking of the official tagline. But it feels like the creativity is on the wane, while limited manpower and internal assets, too, restrict the bandwidth to break out and do more.

Your PR team is probably neither jaded nor incapable; instead, they may simply represent the collateral fallout that a good number of nonprofits face. This can happen when the passion to achieve and reinvent collide with daily demands and institutional realities. In times like these, fresh voices and unfiltered imagination from outside the bubble may be just what is needed.

Department in Transition. Maybe your organization’s PR team is experiencing a rare case of turnover, as tenured contributors and senior leaders retire or exit for other opportunities. Without the main players at the helm anymore, those left behind may not know what, exactly, to do to sustain the daily PR operation – and much less propel the mission forward with ingenuity. While staff resignations can put departments in limbo, the absence of said team members also presents an opportunity.

Organizations can capitalize on the moment by hiring external help to shoulder routine demands in the meantime. The newfangled line of sight this offers may be just what motivates teams to focus on what they know and do best, while agreeing to share the tactical and strategic workload with others, from hiring project-based independent freelancers to contracting with a new PR and marketing firm of record.

Current Approaches Not Working. Your team is following established PR best practices. You read and study the latest articles and tips from leaders in the space. You explore and test new applications and technologies in the name of efficiency and innovation. But still . . . things are not sticking like they used to. It may not be that your internal PR team is doing something wrong, but for whatever reason, past practices are no longer adequate.

In cases like these, PR teams could benefit from the objectivity and clarity that external sets of eyes provide. An engagement with an external agency could start off with a PR audit, wherein current goals and strategies are assessed, revealing previously unknown opportunities for improvement.

“As the saying goes, sometimes people are just too close to situations to analyze and assess them critically,” says Wakeman. “Bringing in fresh faces can lead to perspectives, approaches and analyses that are just as eye-opening.”

Has your organization considered partnering with an external PR firm? If so, what were some of the concerns your team had about doing so? Were they proven or unfounded? Share with us on The Wakeman Agency Facebook page, where we’re always chatting about PR news, industry updates and proven practices.

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