8 Key Questions To Ask A PR Firm

If part of your 2016 B2B PR planning is to invest in a top-notch PR firm, don’t go ahead without incorporating these eight key questions into your decision-making criteria.

Can you provide some recent, relevant case histories? Ideally an agency’s selection isn’t based solely on category experience, but it’s an easy way to make a first cut. In the best case each firm under consideration has demonstrable client history, and some will rise to the top based on fresh category experience well matched to future opportunities.

Who will be our day-to-day contact? An agency should have determined this before they ever meet with a potential PR partner, and obviously that person should be in the room. The account lead at the right agency will have a combination of pertinent experience, communications skills and good chemistry with the client team.

Can we speak with some of your current clients? References are often important, but up-to-date ones will give you the most current picture of what a working relationship would look like.

Where would our business fit in your account roster? Here you are trying to determine if you are the “big fish in the small pond” or the other way around. Getting a sense of the other accounts handled by the agency will help determine if the level of service will meet your needs.

Can you offer an example of a creative strategy? It’s often a good idea to let the agency demonstrate their smarts on a real-world project. This insight into their thinking provides a glimpse of how creative they are, which is typically the spark that takes a ho-hum idea to the next level.

Please describe your digital and social capabilities. No PR program would be complete without these capabilities, but make sure that the experience isn’t limited to social posting by an intern. Look for examples of work that demonstrate a grasp of strategy and thought leadership where relevant.

How do you calculate ROI for PR services? Measurement is a cornerstone of all PR decision-making and determining that a firm’s results calculus and reporting style fits with your own is critical.

How do you charge for services? Entering into a PR relationship is a major undertaking for any company, so an early step is establishing the budget and whether the partnership is based on fee or an hourly rate. If the contract is fee-based, it’s also important to establish the length of the contract and how it is renewed.

Bonus question. Always ask the firm what they would need from you to make the relationship work best. The most productive PR partnerships function less like client/vendor relationships and more like extensions of the same department. This simple question can help ensure that the latter is the case.

So You Want To Hire A PR Firm? Eliminate These Roadblocks

As senior level communicators or marketers look to enhance their capabilities with outside talent, one consideration should be retaining a public relations agency. Marketing execs are often the keepers of brand image and sometimes the corporate image as well. Who wouldn’t benefit from competent, connected and creative PR thinking?

And yet. Some companies plunge into PR without thinking through their goals or a partnership’s requirements. Before beginning the search for the best PR agency, take a step back and eliminate the following roadblocks.

We need to be in The New York Times…as soon as possible! Sometimes the C-suite issues an edict like this, but before your knee jerks, determine what the company should really seek to achieve through public relations. Think about the long-term goals. Do your goals include generating trade buy-in for a new product? Consumer awareness? Does the CEO want to build an industry profile? It’s fundamental to set communications objectives to help narrow the type of PR agency needed. Forcing the exercise may demonstrate completely different needs than first surmised.

There’s no budget. Thinking you might just carve out a little from the marketing budget? Think again. Public relations is a distinct discipline that requires its own set of goals, and, yes, its own budget. Once needs are established, research what different agencies charge for PR strategy development and implementation. See how that matches up with available budgets, and have it in mind when meeting with firms. A PR agency is far better able to create a plan for a company when an actual budget is quoted; otherwise, everyone’s time may be wasted.

We need to outsource because we have NO time for PR. Hold on. Yes, companies often bring on a PR partner because they lack the staff to develop and run a robust communications program. But know that managing an agency takes time. There will be questions, meetings, materials review, separate sessions for message and media preparation, – and that’s just the beginning. The more time you commit to your agency, the more you’re likely to get back in the form of ROI.

We don’t know what to expect. Have the key execs had experience with an external PR agency or similar relationships? Is the organization aligned on brand messages and communications needs? Is there a process in place for approval of strategies and content? If the answer to any of these is “no,” you have some advance work to do, priming senior management on “PR Agency 101”before selling in services. The best environment for maintaining a successful, results-oriented PR agency relationship is one of communications and collaboration.