Hiring a public relations (PR) agency can be a daunting task, especially if it’s your first time or you’ve been burned in the past. As an agency that works with emerging brands and startups, we’ve heard our fair share of horror stories and PR trauma. When getting into the world of hiring an agency, there’s a fair share of ugly, but the good news is when you find the right agency, you have a collaborator for life.
Much like dating, there are signs to watch for when getting into a new PR relationship—or any vendor relationship, for that matter. I find that most brands that hire PR agencies don’t realize how much effort they will also need to put into the relationship to ultimately make their campaigns successful. Transparency is the golden key to all of this. If you feel like your agency is not telling you everything you need to know and more … I say run far away.
Of course, I may be biased, but I feel like I come from a time when the old school of PR and the new school meet to make the next generation communication mix. While there are a lot of easy ways to tell if an agency is worthy of your dollars and attention, there are some lesser-known nuances that may make the main difference when you’re hiring a PR agency.
• Does your agency understand your business objectives? That’s right. Does your agency understand what you are trying to accomplish as a business? While it’s great to hear about aspirational PR goals, the truth is that our job as PR professionals is to listen to your business challenges to identify what type of communication and PR will best benefit your business. Your prospective PR agency should be able to identify your goals and create a focused plan that will have a measurable outcome that brings you closer to your business goals while building your brand profile in new, visible ways.
• What are their recommendations? I’ve heard so many times about PR agencies that just put together what the client wants to see. However, if they don’t have any recommendations of their own, they may not be bringing that creative edge you need to your storytelling, pitching or campaigns. Make sure your agency is proactively bringing you new ideas to position your brand in the best way(s) possible.
• Are they open and communicative? Is your agency open about its communication with the media? I can tell you from being in this industry for 20 years that communicating with the media is only becoming more difficult. That’s why you need a multipronged PR approach. Your agency should be giving you feedback about the media that they are reaching out to. What are they saying (or not saying) in response? Are they pivoting and trying different angles? In a time where time is money, pivoting story angles happens more often than not. Communicating those shifts can be a great way to collaborate with your sales or marketing team on understanding the true pain points of your industry and uncovering new media angles.
With all this said, every PR agency’s style or personality can be different and may not be a fit for you. And like every successful relationship, working with a PR agency is actually a two-way street. So here’s what you should be prepared to give in this relationship:
• Communicate company milestones and developments regularly. You never know when you’ll have a golden opportunity for your PR team to create a campaign. Working in-house for a couple of years, I was able to leverage information that I would have never gotten as an outside collaborator, mostly because the internal teams didn’t even realize that we could leverage the content for media attention.
• Collaborate on expert content. You’re the expert at what you do; the PR pro is an expert at telling the world about it. While your PR pro should be able to translate your story to the world, that doesn’t mean they had the same education or experiences that got you to where you are today. You have to be willing to share.
• Set aside time to prioritize media interviews. It’s very challenging to nail down interviews in today’s hectic media climate, so when you do get on the calendar, make sure you show up prepared to speak.
This is a lot to think about and digest, and you should never step into a PR relationship lightly because the most effective communication relationships are long-term. While you may get quick media success when you have news, the real trick is to establish a steady drumbeat of leadership in your industry, which takes patient, creative collaborators to cultivate. Here’s to your new PR team. Cheers!
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