Do you need help getting the word out about your business? It’s easy to do a Google search for “public relations firm” but how do you know which ones are worth partnering with?
Unfortunately, not all PR agencies are created equally. I can’t tell you how frequently we talk to business owners about times they hired a public relations firm only to have their hard-earned money taken without any measurable results.
How can you make sure this doesn’t happen to you? This guide shares valuable insight into questions to ask, skills to keep an eye out for and advice to consider.
9 Questions to Ask a Potential Public Relations Firm
How do you recommend achieving my business’ public relations goals? As you talk to PR agencies, ask them how they plan to achieve your goals and keep them front of mind throughout the campaign.
- How do you determine if a campaign is successful? Make sure you know how to establish success when you evaluate the campaign in 6-12 months.
- What specific services and deliverables will I get for the amount that I pay? Be sure it’s clear exactly what you’re paying for from the beginning – and get it in writing! We’ve talked to countless business owners that have told us their horror stories of working with a public relations firm that charged exorbitant fees and didn’t provide any deliverables; have the agency spell out the specific services you’re paying for along with how much it costs and when your payments are due.
- What kind of results can I expect? Also ask how long it will take to start seeing them. Public relations is a slow and steady approach; make sure you allow at least 6-12 months to evaluate if the strategy is working.
- What experience do you have managing this type of campaign? What were the results? Ask for examples of their work so you can gauge whether or not they’re a good fit for your company.
- Who will be working on my account? Unfortunately, many PR agencies’ senior level executives negotiate details with a new client only to turn the reigns over to a junior level associate with very little experience as soon as the dotted line is signed. Make sure you double check that whoever is managing your account knows what they’re doing, and ask how involved the person you’re talking to will be in your campaign.
- What will the timeline look like? It’s always important to know what to expect, so ask what the next steps are and what you can anticipate as the client.
- How will you keep me updated of progress? A lot of PR work goes unseen by the client; it’s important the person representing your business keeps you in the loop and communicates with you regularly – at least once a week.
- Can I talk to a few references? Make sure you actually follow through and check their references, too! Ask them what kind of work the public relations firm did, what the results were, what the working relationship was like and if they were happy with the campaign.
7 Important Skills to Look for in a Public Relations Firm
Writing. Writing clearly and concisely is essential to public relations. If a journalist receives a press release full of typos or grammatical errors they’ll cast it aside as untrustworthy. Although many people do know how to write, using words to make a point clearly, concisely and in a compelling way is a skill PR agencies take time to hone. If they have a blog on their website, read a few recent posts to get a feel for the team’s ability to write clearly.
- Communication. Communication is vital to an effective PR campaign. You might have the best products or services in the world, but if the public relations firm you hire can’t tell anyone about them effectively, no one will ever know. Is the copy on their website clear? Are their blog posts informative and interesting? How clearly do they answer your questions either on the phone or by email? These are all indicators of their communication skills.
- Research, Learning & Awareness. Effective public relations practitioners never stop learning. They’re constantly researching clients’ industries, learning about new tools that are surfacing and staying aware of what’s going on in the world around them so they can effectively position their clients. Ask them what steps their team takes to keep learning and stay on top of industry trends.
- Goal Setting & Measurement. If you don’t set any PR goals, you don’t know if your efforts are effective. When you evaluate your business in 6 months, what markers will you look for to determine success? Increased website traffic? A certain number of media placements? Make sure the goals you set are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. A solid public relations firm will be able to help you with this.
- Big Picture Thinking. You need a public relations firm that can see the big picture when developing an overall strategy. How will they use different strategies and tools to reach your company’s goals?
- Attention to Detail & Deadlines. At the same time, attention to detail is just as important. Although sending a photo to a reporter 5 minutes late might not sound so bad, it could be the difference between missing out on the coverage completely. A journalist might also choose not to write about your company if they need to spend too much time cleaning up the information you sent. In fact, when I was working on my PR degree, I had professors that would mark papers down an entire letter grade per typo. Lack of attention to three small details could mean the difference between receiving an A and a D on the assignment. While it seemed harsh at the time, it’s a lesson that’s served me well!
- Creativity. Creativity is vital to any successful campaign. How will the public relations firm get your message across in a new, memorable way? What will set you apart from your competition? This is a major benefit to hiring a PR agency that fosters internal teamwork: in addition to relying on your account rep’s creativity, they employ other creative people that can bounce ideas off each other during a brainstorming session for your business.
7 Pieces of Advice for Evaluating a Public Relations Firm
Consider the timeline they give you. Public relations is a slow and steady approach. A public relations firm that is worth your consideration will tell you a solid public relations strategy takes time. Publicity is a long-term approach to spreading the news about your business. It takes consumers numerous impressions before they start to remember a company; establishing brand awareness and name recognition can’t be done overnight. Remember, you want your business to be like the tortoise, not the hare.
- Do they make guarantees? There is no Magic 8 Ball. No matter how much experience they have, a trustworthy PR agency won’t tell you exactly what results you’ll see. They don’t know which media outlets might feature your story or be interested in an interview, and they can’t guarantee your sales will increase by a certain amount.
- Are they clear about the services they’ll provide? Even if an agency can’t guarantee the result of their work, a solid public relations firm can tell you what steps they’ll take to achieve your goals. They should also be able to tell you how they plan to measure success over the course of your campaign.
- Are they well-versed in digital strategies? A comprehensive PR campaign should include both traditional and digital tactics. Can they use alternative methods to bolster your campaign? Social media marketing and blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) can be fantastic ways to complement media pitching, for example.
- How do they approach journalists? Effective media relations is much more than writing and distributing press releases across the wires. Although releases have their time and place, it’s actually much more beneficial to take a personalized approach through carefully crafted media pitches. We send pitches all the time at Three Girls, and they’re responsible for getting clients covered in the Associated Press, Cosmopolitan, Entrepreneur and many, many more major media outlets.
- Don’t worry about their experience in your field. Although a public relations firm may tout their industry-specific experience, when it comes down to it, the specific industries they’ve worked with aren’t as important. Yes, tech and food are two vastly different industries, but the same skills will achieve the same results. Instead of worrying about an agency’s experience in your industry, evaluate how effective they are at crafting a message and getting it out there.
- Don’t place too much weight on their media connections. Journalists move from one beat or outlet to another all the time, so a particular contact at a specific magazine or website will only last as long as that reporter works there. What is more valuable is how well the agency knows how to approach the media with a viable angle and get them what they need to tell your brand’s story.
Have you ever worked with a public relations firm? I’d love to hear about your experiences or the lessons you learned in the comments below!
Also, do you want more advice for hiring a PR and marketing partner? Don’t miss my post, How to Hire a Social Media Partner: 15 Questions to Ask!
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