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10 Crucial Rules for Hiring a PR Agency

4 min read
10 Crucial Rules for Hiring a PR Agency

Let’s assume you know the definition of public relations: unpaid publicity achieved by pitching press releases and bylined articles to editors at newspapers, trade magazines and business journals.

And let’s assume you know the value of PR is up to 10 times higher than paid publicity, that is, advertising, because readers realize it has been validated as newsworthy by a “neutral gatekeeper,” the editor or publisher who evaluated and accepted it.

And let’s assume you’ve listened to the experts who say your promotional budget should be split 50-50 between PR and advertising.

You’re ready to act, to hire a PR firm to increase your company’s visibility through a stream of publicity over time (there are no instant results), to give you credibility as an expert in your field, and to get your company name out in front of the community and, maybe, the nation.

How do you know what company to choose?

Here are 10 crucial questions to guide your search.

1) Does the PR firm specialize in any particular areas?

PR firms often tout expertise in one or two areas such as high-tech PR, healthcare PR and crisis communications. In areas such as entertainment and sports, there are unique requirements and procedures, and a specialist is mandatory. In any industry, you will get better results from a PR firm familiar with your field and with editorial contacts at your key publications.

2) Who will be working on your account?

With some mid- to large-sized PR firms, the President of the agency may sell you the account, then turn the day-to-day operations over to an account executive. A smaller firm is more likely to provide the personal attention of an experienced PR pro.

Whoever works on your account should be skilled at developing editorial relationships and understanding reporters’ needs. Placement clippings achieved specifically by the person handling your account should be evaluated before approving a new staffing assignment.

3) What is the firm’s writing and editing skills?

Writing is fundamental to the PR profession because it affects both the acceptance and impact of your company’s stories. Flowery writing is fine for your college English exam, but the best PR firms write succinct, compelling press releases and bylined articles. Be sure to review a portfolio of writing samples before hiring a PR firm.

4) What is the firm’s pitching skills?

Pitching and writing are two very different skills. Does the firm use the same people to handle both? Here large firms may offer specialization unavailable by smaller organizations. A “publicist” is a pitching specialist who is skilled at orally convincing editors to accept a story. This may require follow-up over the course of several weeks before a placement is achieved.

Pitching at smaller organizations, on the other hand, is more integrally connected with the story. A principal probably suggested the idea for the release, then wrote it for the client’s approval. Thus, when reporters ask questions to these people, they are informed about the field and know what themes to emphasize.

5) Are you going to be lost in the crowd?

How many other companies is the agency serving? What are the turnaround times?

At larger organizations, a week may pass before you see unsolicited progress on your account. Executives at smaller organizations generally do something for every client on a daily basis.

6) Are you locked into a three-month contract?

Many PR firms demand this, but if you are new to PR, you should insist on a month-by-month retainer. While it may take 90 days to see the results of any publicity, other financial imperatives may occur, and it is always good business to maintain flexibility in case of unforeseen circumstances.

7) How much?

The going rate is about $3,000 per month. This is often prohibitive for smaller and start-up organizations. If you can’t afford the standard retainer, see if the agency offers any special packages or if they can refer you to someone else. Some PR agencies even offer unique introductory programs.

8) What do I get?

No PR firm will guarantee results, at least no reputable one. You should, however, request to see some of the agency’s placements for clients in fields similar to your own. In addition to briefs of a few paragraphs, you should look for longer stories, general company coverage and graphics. Also inquire about the circulation of the publications shown. Are you familiar with the publication, or is it an obscure trade magazine? You should expect to see stories in publications with a circulation of 30,000 or more.

9) Do you feel a rapport with the person who will work on your account?

This is important. PR is a collaborative activity, and the best ideas are often generated during brainstorming sessions. Your PR person should enjoy talking to you and vice versa.

10) Who are the PR firm’s other clients?

Ask for references from both past and current clients. When you talk to them, ask about the PR firm’s strengths and weaknesses. Every firm has both.

While there is no foolproof method for hiring any organization, the above questions, pursued with due diligence, will put you on track for a long-term relationship with a steady stream of benefits such as increased recognition and visibility with your prospects, colleagues and clients.

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