Bringing on an external resource for public relations is a big commitment for any business. Most companies make that move only after careful consideration, and sometimes it’s a step that’s overdue. But occasionally an organization will sign with a PR firm prematurely or in error. Here’s how to know if you’re not yet ready for the partnership.
The PR investment could be squandered if goals aren’t clear, or if the client and agency aren’t aligned on what they need to achieve. It’s a good idea to drill down, too. Instead of vague objectives like “build positive visibility” or “support sales efforts” the goals should be accompanied by specific tactics and deliverables, e.g. “write and place generate 3-5 bylined pieces per month on the following topics” or “achieve 60% pull-through for 2 key messages in earned media.”
A common aspect of the fuzzy-goals problem is a lack of internal alignment on the agency role or goals. A public relations program typically falls under one department in the organization, but it should ideally support many units, from talent recruitment to sales. Things will run more smoothly if the senior players agree about the program’s desired outcomes and are willing to commit their most precious resource when it makes sense – the time and thought capital of their key players.
Sometimes client companies think the hardest part of the process is finding and vetting different agencies to identify the best partner. It’s true that the process can be time-consuming, and it deserves a thoughtful approach. But signing the new agency team is only the beginning. A designated internal resource like a PR Manager or Communications Director will need to manage the agency, handle responses, course-correct, and communicate up the ranks on progress and outcomes. Also, while internal alignment is important, there shouldn’t be too many chefs in the PR kitchen. Timely responses to media needs are critical, particularly in today’s news environment.
Aside from a sudden crisis management need, if you’re bringing on an agency partner on an “emergency” basis, you should think again. A strategic PR campaign needs time to build momentum, and it’s unlikely to salvage a failing product or turn around a tough competitive situation overnight. In the same vein, PR isn’t typically a reliable way to generate demand. The key word here is “reliable.” While the type of earned media that PR achieves can definitely enhance brand reputation or even spur sales (as when a product is featured in the press), it’s notoriously hard to predict or control.
If you’re scraping together a PR budget by stealing a little from here and a bit from there, consider waiting. We’re biased, but a strong PR campaign deserves more than scraps. It’s better to put off the commitment for a year or more than to shortchange the PR team by starving its program. For more insight into how agencies set their budgets and bill for their work, this post about the different ways PR teams calculate their fees holds up well.
Of course, the PR agency team can and should help its client develop, shape and communicate their story. But they need the raw material. For example, if a B2B organization isn’t willing to share revenue figures to tout its success, it should be produce other metrics. If the founder isn’t willing to speak to press about the backstory, they’re missing a big opportunity. Story ingredients like recent turning points or pivots by the company; well-known customers or recent sales success; a recent funding round; or simple growth metrics are all excellent components for an organization’s presentation to the media.
Maybe you’re still 2 years away from raising funding for a new business. Or there are executive changes in the wind. The world-changing new product has run into difficulties and delays. And at all costs, you want to avoid the possibility of generating PR – and demand – for a hot product or service that isn’t yet available. (It sounds silly, but you’d be surprised.) For most PR programs you can expect earned media results within one or two months, so it pays to plan accordingly. As in life, in PR, timing is critical.