So you’ve decided to learn from business greats like Bill Gates and Richard Branson – who are strong believers in the power of communication – and appoint a PR agency.
Naturally we are going to agree with them and see PR as a vital part of your business marketing strategy.
Just think, in the new media landscape, and not forgetting the accessibility of smart phone technology, your audience is reading a trade magazine or newspaper, whilst watching TV alongside spending time on LinkedIn, catching up on Twitter, checking emails and Googling the latest YouTube video, all within a matter of minutes.
All this activity has to work together. It means a product or service message, your content, or a ‘brand story’ now has to be visible in more places, online and offline than ever before and it needs to be refreshed and updated more often. This is where a PR agency can prove invaluable.
But before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you bear these tips in mind:
It’s important that the agency you choose does its homework on your target market, but it’s equally important that you do yours.
When seeking proposals for your business, make sure you invite no more than two or three to formally pitch. Not only will the agencies thank you for it, but they’ll also invest more thought and time into producing a proposal that may pleasantly surprise you, with some innovative ideas that you may not have previously thought.
Too many agencies pitching sends a red flag that the pitch isn’t worth the time and effort because the process isn’t being taken seriously enough. Agencies may believe you are simply hosting a ‘beauty contest’ or looking to steal ideas away without actually wanting to hire a PR agency at all.
If you’re targeting a B2B market, an agency with expertise in corporate communications would be a better fit than a household name in consumer PR, because the campaigns and tactics employed are very different.
Similarly, if your product or service falls into a niche area, an agency that specialises in this niche will understand the idiosyncrasies and language, and will not require extensive background information to hit the ground running.
2. The Brief
Be clear about your objectives and budget. What is your product or service? Who is your target customer? Who are your competitors? Is there a timescale to any launches? Write this all down in a structured brief.
All of these questions will help a PR agency understand what you are trying to achieve and therefore tailor their proposal to your objectives. Plus, by working through this phase, you will minimise the risk of any nasty surprises (including costings) in the final stages of the pitch process when you’re close to making a decision and don’t want anything to get in your way!
3. Social Media
It’s also useful early on to consider the options of social media, which is now closely integrated with PR as well as digital and mobile communications. If you want to keep them separate, be clear about this in your brief.
Alternatively look for a PR firm or consultant who is familiar with these trends and, more importantly, knows how to harness them for you. Ask for specific examples of how they’ve used digital, social or mobile communication to help a client reach their goals.
Not all social media channels will be relevant to all markets, so it’s important the PR agency is aware of this and is not just paying lip service i.e. they really do know how to exploit this relatively new but also powerful new channel for PR.
4. The Pitch
Who is pitching? Is it the most senior person at the agency? The biggest complaint from any company is that whilst a PR pitch was attended by the most senior, on winning the account, the work was handed over to the most junior person in the team. Ask the question at the pitch stage to ascertain who will be running your account, then again, there will be no surprises.
5. Feel the Chemistry
Chemistry is critical, as you need to trust that the PR agency and people working on your account know your market and understands your product or service. The PR agency needs to be seen as part of the team to maximize the opportunities to gain exposure.
So much so, that choosing a PR agency has been described as akin to choosing a spouse or a business partner. And in the pitch process it’s important you feel open and comfortable to ask even difficult questions and be happy with the answers; such as asking for their opinion on the PR challenges you face.
Whilst your brief will have set out your budget for the PR campaign – make sure when choosing an agency you are 100% clear on what is included in the retainer and what is not. This is right down to the detail of how many press releases are included in the time allocation provided against the budget on an agreed basis.
Also consider any of the design work proposed where the creativity is likely to be extra. Don’t be afraid to ask the question if it’s not obvious.
7. Retention Rate
Word of mouth is probably the best recommendation on which you can rely, and this can be checked by references or LinkedIn Testimonials. However, if that’s not available then find out about their retention rate and the reason that clients left the agency. And do consider everything on balance. If the agency has lots of clients who would happily recommend them, but one that didn’t work out, by all means find out why, but take everything in context. It would be unfair to discount them as a result of one client vs. numerous happy clients.
8. The Perils of PR for your Ego
Be realistic about your goals. Everyone would like to see their name in the national papers and glossy magazines, but if this audience isn’t going to be ultimately buying your product or service, then your targeting might need to be re-planned.
If an agency starts throwing around the names of national publications or journalists in such a way, but it wouldn’t be your core market, either your brief didn’t convey your product or service particularly well, or the agency doesn’t understand your market.
Although this isn’t an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts, hopefully this will steer you to making the right choice for your business.
One final word; once you have chosen your agency, trust their instincts. You’ll get far more from them if you listen to their advice and proposal for your campaign, especially as they will have significantly more experience working with the press. If you don’t trust that they know what they are doing, it begs the question, why did you hire them?