In our ten years of trading we’ve met and worked with a vast array of businesses from sole traders to global multinationals, across all manner of sectors. As a matter of course, we’ve done numerous new business proposals and pitches and gleaned a lot of insight into the process of appointing a PR agency.
Not only from the point of view of pitching for the work, but also in terms of what companies want. Sometimes, however, the business in question may not have a clear idea of what they are looking for, which can hinder a successful relationship from the outset.
KEY QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE WORKING WITH A PR AGENCY
WHAT IS THEIR CLIENT LIST LIKE?
If you’re a B2B business and the PR company mostly works with consumer brands, maybe it’s not right for you. If the PR company is used to the B2B market, bear in mind that’s where their contacts will be. Make sure you’re a good fit!
DO THEY KNOW YOUR INDUSTRY?
Some agencies specialise in certain sectors but most will work across a wide range of different industries. If their client base is varied, find out if they have previous experience in similar or relevant activity. Don’t be afraid to test their knowledge of publications (online and offline) in your industry that they should be targeting. Also ask for evidence of successes with other companies.
IS THERE ANY LIKELY CONFLICT OF INTEREST?
Sometimes PR companies will have exclusive contracts that say they can’t hire anyone else in your sector. If a PR company has a client that’s too similar to you it may present a conflict of interest. If they have a client in the same category but you feel you’re different enough in your offerings, then there’s no issue.
DO THEY UNDERSTAND YOU AND YOUR BUSINESS?
Do they give sound advice? Each business is unique and if a PR agency doesn’t really “get” what you do, and who you do it for, they won’t be able to sell it very well to the media and other stakeholders.
ARE THEY SUCCESSFUL?
Do you often see their clients in the media? Ask to see evidence of this if you can’t find it yourself. Be wary of PR agencies that spend more time promoting themselves than their clients!
DO YOU KNOW WHO WILL BE HANDLING YOUR PR ACTIVITY?
What qualifications and experience do they have? And do you get on with them? This is more important than you may think. Your account manager will become the public face and voice of your brand. They will also be someone you deal with on a day-to-day basis. Not only do you have to trust them implicitly, but you have to like them and be able to communicate with them too.
DO YOU KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE AGENCY AND HOW THEY OPERATE?
What is their professional background? Who are their present clients and how long have they been with the agency? Will the agency put you in touch with them for direct feedback? How do they charge e.g. retainer (set fee per month), hourly rates, or a combination of both? How are expenses charged – at cost or with a mark-up? What are the methods of reporting on the programme – weekly WIPs, monthly reports, six-monthly or 12-monthly reviews?
When appointing a PR agency there is one crucial thing to consider at the outset – are you willing to put the work in? PR is a two-way street – it requires you to constantly communicate with your agency and feed them updates and information. Our job is to make it sound good and to send it to the right people, but we aren’t psychic. Think about whether you’ll have time to provide info and quotes for articles, photos etc. and fast! The PR game is very quick and journalists can get very frustrated waiting on pieces (read our blog on the importance of being timely in PR).
SIX TIPS FOR MANAGING THE RELATIONSHIP
1. BE HONEST AND OPEN
For your PR to be a success, you need to trust your agency. Don’t keep unnecessary secrets that will hinder the relationship or the quality of our advice. Make sure we are helped to work alongside any other communications suppliers and with any of your own staff. This means getting buy-in from your top management and ensuring they are aware of the PR goals and are committed to their achievement. By the same token, accept that success or failure belong to the whole team and that the agency cannot be expected to deliver unaided.
2. PROVIDE THE NECESSARY INFORMATION
The more we have on you, the more angles we can find, the more we can sell you to the media. Pictures, info, quotes, angles – give your PRs all the ammunition they need to go out and sell you in! Sometimes something that seems trivial to you can be the basis of a great story. Be sure to involve us at an early stage in any activities that will require our support – last minute briefings usually means lost opportunities.
3. MAKE A PLAN AND DISCUSS TARGETS
Talk about your reasons behind wanting PR, and whether your brand needs any work. Tell them the key media you’d like to appear in. Agree what constitutes success from the programme and put in place an SLA (Service Level Agreement). Then measure the results constantly against the criteria agreed.
4. BE PATIENT
While online coverage is usually a relatively quick turnaround, magazine coverage is often secured months in advance. If, three months into your PR journey you haven’t seen any magazine coverage don’t worry – most magazines work three to six months ahead (Christmas issues are planned in July, for example) so it will take a while for the results to show, but if you’ve hired a good PR agency, the wheels will be in motion.
5. STAY IN THE LOOP
Make sure your account manager keeps you up to date with activity and where they are spending their time. Conduct regular and honest reviews of progress and achievements to ensure the relationship continues to flourish.
6. REMEMBER PR ISN’T A QUICK FIX SOLUTION
It doesn’t always equate to an instant increase in sales or bookings. PR is a slow, drip feed. The effect of regular press release despatches and phone calls to sell the stories will eventually get your company noticed. We would always recommend sticking with PR for the long term to really see the benefits.