Many of us in the PR agency world evangelize about the benefits of a strategic public relations campaign, including why and when a company should bring on a firm. Yet the growth of our industry – it was up 11% in 2013, the first double-digit increase in five years – doesn’t mean PR’s benefits are well understood. We sometimes experience the “flavor of the month” syndrome, when a company looks at a PR agency relationship like a shiny new object, without insight into how and when it should be done.
The decision shouldn’t be a Hail Mary pass. Here are some reasons and occasions NOT to hire that dazzling PR agency you heard about or met with last week.
You don’t have clear goals. A good agency can develop a PR or communications strategy, but the right campaign should be informed by a company’s business objectives. It’s also helpful to have a clear idea of what constitutes a successful program, and how you will measure results. If the agency doesn’t have answers to those questions, move on.
You urgently need a quick sales boost. This one’s arguable, because some of my peers will say that the right media relations program can generate demand. It can, and when an earned media placement hits and drives site traffic or retail sell-in, it’s pure magic. But what a client company should understand is that the media relations piece of a PR program is very seldom a quick or reliable generator of leads or conversions. It works better as part of a digital marketing and SEO campaign, or as a branding and reputation tool over time.
Your team is overworked and needs help. Even the most talented team cannot operate in a vacuum. If you’re planning to bring on an agency to save time or take tasks off your staff’s plate, think again. A good agency will demand the involvement and input from decision-makers. If they don’t, it’s a red flag.
You’re experimenting. The marketing budget was cut, so you decide to try PR for a few months. This is probably the worst reason to bring on a PR partner. PR is rarely a substitute for marketing, but even if it is, it requires a longer-term commitment. (See #2.)
You want to be one of the cool kids. We see this in the startup culture. Although the pros and cons of outside PR agencies are hotly debated in tech and entrepreneurial circles, some early-stage businesses feel pressure to make the hire prematurely, or without clear reasons or goals. Even the most buzzed-about PR firm with the cutting-edge startup clients won’t turn you into Biz Stone unless the raw material is there and the rationale is sound. In fact, if they’re too busy with the next Uber or Airbnb, they probably won’t have time for you.