Any good public relations agency should want an open conversation about what clients can expect for their investment. And most do. They’re hoping for a productive meeting and a solid start to what they expect will be a long and successful partnership.
But even the best agencies don’t always spill the tea at the very first meeting. Here are some things to keep in mind for companies looking to bring on an outside PR agency for the first time. What might the agency be unlikely to tell you during that initial conversation? It’s probably nothing nefarious, but, like a first date, there are topics that aren’t ideal for the occasion. In the spirit of transparency, here are a few possibilities.
Far from the stereotype of the overeager PR guy, the best agencies have learned what type of client fits their skill set and experience. Top PR companies choose their clients with the same care as they do their employees. The best way to build a track record of success in our business is to align with the businesses and brands who fit our strengths and who offer the potential for a lasting partnership. So, prospective clients should be open about their business challenges as well as the opportunities. The more they know, the better the agency team can assess the potential success of the relationship.
During a competitive review, agencies will naturally bring out the most successful examples of their work. Often this is work for well-known brands because that’s what impresses clients. But should it? Based on experience, I’d say that working for a well-recognized brand offers concrete advantages when it comes to generating earned media coverage. Journalists are more likely to be responsive, and the PR budgets often allow for high-impact tactics like event sponsorships or paid influencer campaigns. There’s nothing wrong with this, but a case history for a smaller or lesser known client often says more about the agency’s ability to deliver consistent earned media outcomes. It may be less impressive but more important as a barometer of performance.
Occasionally a prospective client will want details about our journalists contacts. Some even ask for media references! (Pro tip: most PR professionals value their relationships too much to put media contacts in that position.) It’s true that knowing journalists and bloggers can ease the way to generating stories about clients. But most journalists won’t accept a pitch just because they like you. Media contacts are valuable because they can enable a quick answer and constructive feedback that helps PRs refine our approach. They’re not a magic bullet.
We promote our talent and our creative spark, but the biggest contributor to great media coverage might be old-fashioned spadework. We typically spend more time researching and strategizing than pitching media, for example. It helps to be able to connect the dots, or link a client’s story to a breaking news or growing trend, but the unsung part of media relations is research. If you know what the individual blogger or journalist has covered over the past months, study their work, and go the distance to flesh out the right story angle, you’re far more likely to succeed. But you may not hear as much about that because it’s just not very exciting.