There are many advantages to outsourcing your PR efforts. Hiring the best PR firm to fit your needs is a great way to drive your media relations goals, especially if you don’t have dedicated in-house staff available to perform such functions. Once you decide to outsource some or all of your company’s communications activities, it’s time to find the best PR firm that will provide the expertise you need. In choosing, it might seem easiest to go with the PR firm offering the lowest price. Cost is certainly a consideration, but other criteria are also important. Here are some steps to take in finding and selecting the right PR agency for your business.
Be Crystal Clear on What You Need
In your agency search, you will be talking to PR professionals who are in the business of building relationships and they are very good at it. It’s easy to be swayed by those agencies who appeal to you on an interpersonal level. While it’s important to choose an organization with people you will like working with, an agency must also be highly capable of executing on your service requirements.
The best way to ensure agency qualifications are properly considered is to first clearly outline what you require. This is primarily your scope of work and describes what you want to accomplish by hiring the agency. Consider what activities will be performed in-house by your communications team and which ones will be outsourced to the agency. You want an agency to have a strong capability in providing the specific services you expect them to perform. Agencies usually offer a variety of typical PR services such as media services, reputation management and market research.
It’s helpful to think of these qualifications in terms of musts and wants. Musts are qualifications you consider essential to helping you meet your PR goals. Wants are the nice to haves and you want to keep them in mind. However, they shouldn’t sway your decision toward an agency that doesn’t meet all the musts.
Choosing a Large Firm or a Boutique Agency
Consideration should be given to the size of the PR agency. Should you engage a large agency or one that is smaller? It depends on your business and strategy needs. If you have diverse needs for PR services, a more general, large agency may be best. This is also true if the amount of support you require tends to vary widely – for example a consumer-focused company with high needs during holiday periods and then steady or low needs the rest of the year.
The more specialized your business, the more important it is to have a similarly-focused PR agency. Great PR firms develop deep expertise in the areas of their client base. They know and understand terminology, the market players, and the technology. They develop key relationships with industry publications and reporters who write in that space. This allows the agency to be most successful in getting your business media coverage. For example, our agency provides services to businesses primarily in the technology, financial and transportation sectors. We have developed expertise and relationships with publications specific to these industries such as The Financial Times, TechCrunch and FreightWaves. In contrast, an agency specializing in the hospitality industry is more likely to develop strong contacts with industry or consumer publications such as Hotel Business Magazine or Conde’ Nast Traveler.
Answers to these types of questions will guide you in finding an agency with the right focus:
- What is my business’s primary industry?
- Is my business B2B or B2C?
- Where are most of my customers located – local, nationwide or global?
Research & Find A Few Good Choices
Once you determine your list of qualifications and desired agency focus, compile a short list of possible firms. A directed Google search is a good place to start. Then move on to other sources. Referrals are a great way to discover agencies. Reach out to your network such as people from previous jobs, your current vendors, etc. Be purposeful in asking for more information than simply what agency they use. Ask what services are provided and why they like the agency.
Another resource is industry awards and ranking lists. A great one is O’Dwyer’s, which provides an annual ranking of PR Firms. Also check out The American Business Awards – they give bronze, silver and gold awards to the “Public Relations Agency of the Year” based on an annual nomination and judging process. Your city might also have rankings and awards to check out. Often these are sponsored by a local news publication or business journal.
While the initial search may be broad, narrow your list down to 3-4 of your top choices. This smaller selection will allow you to really dig in and do your due diligence in learning about the agencies.
Evaluate Each Agency
Now that you have a manageable list of candidates, it’s time to learn more about them. Each one will have pro’s and con’s to discover. Here are some steps to take:
- Research each agency’s web site, social media and client testimonials.
- Contact the agencies and listen to their pitch. This is a good time to ask questions on their capabilities. Ask what they can do for you, as well as how they will accomplish the work.
- Plan on reviewing their proposal in person to address questions from both parties.
- Always get references and be sure to call them. Talking to current and past clients is a great way to really understand what makes that agency unique and gives insight beyond their website and pitch.
- Study the proposals carefully. Review the scope of work to see if it includes all the services you seek. Scrutinize the contract terms such as billing frequency and cancelation clauses. In some cases, paying quarterly or annually may net you discounts.
Evaluation of your possible agencies is an important step in selecting the best one.
Make the Final Choice
Once you have completed your research on all the agencies, evaluate them against each other and make a final selection. It’s helpful to create a spreadsheet or table that ranks the agencies against the needs (musts and wants) you developed earlier. Here’s an example of such a chart:
|Criteria||Agency A||Agency B||Agency C|
|Must: provide effective media relations through developed media contacts relative to my business|
|Must: provide creative social media content to grow my company’s digital presence|
|Must: provide brand management in line with my company’s culture and to appeal to my customers|
|Want: provide expert crisis management if needed|
|Want: large purchasing power to offer discounted press release distribution|
It’s no small decision to select and sign a PR agency. The one you choose will work on your behalf to develop positive media relations. In the process, they will be representing your business, so take time to make a careful selection. The result is a partnership with a qualified PR agency that fits well with your business strategy and culture.