4 + 7 Things to Consider When Hiring a PR Firm
You’re ready to hire a PR firm. According to Forbes Council Member John Boyanoski, in his article, Spotting the Difference Between a Good and Bad PR Firm, there are four things to look for. We read the article, and it inspired us to create this Uptake because, while John has some good ideas, and while we agree with the spirit of those four things, we believe there are other things to consider that we think are equally, if not more important, when investing in public relations.
Here are John’s recommendations.
John says you should take a look at a firm’s press release. Let’s put this one near the bottom of the list. First, there are thousands of PR professionals, and every one of them should be able to write a decent press release. Second, what happens during the release’s approval process can significantly impact the finished product. It may have been tampered with by a picky legal team, a zealous senior executive who insists on having numerous quotes, and many other external factors. Don’t judge a PR firm solely on their press releases. And as a reminder – press releases aren’t a PR strategy in and of themselves. You can learn why in this episode.
Website and Social Media
Next, John recommends reviewing how often the firm updates their website and social media. We’d also put this one near the bottom of the consideration list. Sometimes, the cobbler’s children have no shoes, and great plumbers often have leaky pipes in their homes. Yes, we update our website and social media, but that’s low on our to-do list because we focus far more on getting our customers’ coverage, helping them look good, and ensuring their message is hitting the right places. This suggestion is not a strong barometer for measuring PR success or failure. A PR firm can have a beautiful, shiny site and spend more time looking good than doing good work for its clients, just as it’s possible for a firm’s site to be less updated or very simple, but the firm does a fantastic job and gets more work from referrals than SEO.
Your Account Contact
John suggests asking who will handle your account. We agree this one is important. Firms often connect clients with the CEO or senior people during the sales pitch process, but sometimes, the A-team disappears once the contract is signed. It’s important to ask who your day-to-day contacts will be and ask to meet them before you agree to work with a firm.
John tells readers to ask for references. We’re good with this one – as long as it’s the last step in agreeing to be our client. We have great clients and many sales opportunities that don’t always turn into clients. If all those potential clients contacted our current clients, our references would spend more time talking about us than doing their jobs.
While we’re happy to share references in the final phase of the selection process, we have a better idea – ask others you trust in business to talk about PR firms they’ve worked with. Who would your professional friends recommend? That’s a built-in and trusted reference, and we get many clients through referrals. If you see a campaign you like or a company getting the type of coverage you hope to get, ask who they use and reach out to see if the firm is a good fit for you.
And like press releases, any good PR firm should be able to share references, but like a job candidate sharing which bosses to call, firms choose the clients who love them the most. A little leg work on your own may give you a clearer picture of the pros and cons, gathered first-hand from trusted professionals who’ve already worked with an agency.
And here are our recommendations to think about when searching for PR support.
It’s vital to trust who you’re working with. Public relations is all about relationships. It’s about chemistry and a little like dating. You may have found the best PR firm in the world, but if you don’t like the people or feel OK hopping on a weekly call with them, and if you don’t gel with their advice and suggestions, that’s a red flag. When we like our clients and they trust us, we bend over backwards for them. When we’re in sync with clients, we have better ideas, stronger collaboration and more results to celebrate together. A good client/agency relationship is a well-oiled machine that just works. Things get done. Things progress. Ask yourself, “Do I like and trust the people I’ll be working with?”
General Media Chops
You’re hiring a PR firm to get your business noticed. Do they have solid media chops in your industry? Do they know reporters in the outlets you care about? They should have general knowledge and some good connections. Ask them to show you coverage and success in the publications or outlets you’d like to target.
Understanding Media in Your Business Area
It wouldn’t be fair to expect a PR firm to understand the details about your business. Still, it is a fair expectation that they know about publications, media opportunities and journalists covering the topics related to your work. Ask if they’ve worked with other companies in your vertical. Ask if they’ve worked with reporters or outlets where you’re aspiring for coverage. They won’t know every reporter, but experience and connections with reporters and familiarity with outlets in your vertical are always a plus. Ask the firm how they’d approach less familiar media outlets and what types of research they would do if they are newer to your business.
And remember, we’ll do what we can to understand your business well enough to share your message, but we’re not data scientists or code developers. We excel at information intake and keep learning as clients’ businesses evolve, but our knowledge base is firmly rooted in media and media relations. We make a point to understand the journalists in your space to get them to tell your story.
Even if the PR firm has had several placements in the NY Times or CBS Morning News, that doesn’t mean your business is ready for this level of exposure. Ask the firm where they think your business fits and determine if your aspirations meet theirs. Do they have creative ideas on where to place your company? Are they realistic or promising something that is probably not attainable?
Telling your story without truly understanding your business is challenging. Ask how the firm will learn about your work and get up to speed. At Upright, we try not to create more work for our clients. When learning about your business, we frontload our learning curve, becoming familiar quickly with your business, your clients, and how you work. We find creative ways to make the best use of your time as we learn, such as recording our first meetings and interviewing your experts to create bylines, pitches and talking points early on.
Are you able to reach your PR firm when you need them? Discuss time expectations early in the review process to help determine a good fit. Several clients at Upright say they feel like our only client. We provide stellar customer service and quick responses and are available for more than just weekly meetings. Unless it’s a genuine crisis (watch our Uptake on crisis communications), we won’t be answering 2:00 a.m. emails at 2:05 a.m. While we check our communications off-hours, if something can wait until the next business day, we want our clients to understand that’s when we’ll most likely get back to them.
There aren’t many PR problems that truly require 3:00 a.m. team meetings. As PR consultants, sometimes we can be the voice of reason, implementing strategy and avoiding rushing or panicking, possibly making mistakes from hasty decisions. But it’s fair to expect your firm to be available during the day and pick up the phone or answer your email within a reasonable time frame. Some firms make themselves available 24/7, and firms that are difficult to reach, even during work hours, so ask the firm you’re considering how they prefer to communicate regularly and how they handle urgent communications.
Is there a two-way street when it comes to respect? Does your PR firm respect you, and do you feel you can respect them? Do you have a rapport with them? If not, you’ll question their expertise. Communicate and make sure you have mutual respect.
Does the PR firm promise the unachievable? Are they “yes” people? Is your agency sharing what’s realistic, even if it’s not what you want to hear? Be careful if your agency promises coverage – they’re lying. Every client is in a different place; make sure your agency understands what’s possible and consider whether it seems realistic to you, too.
We’re Here for You
If you’ve made it this far, let’s chat about your PR needs—email Uptake@Uprightcomms.com. We promise we’ll get back to you!