Choosing the right PR agency or consultant has been compared to choosing a spouse.
It’s a crucial decision. Your PR agency will be a close partner and one of the key ingredients to a successful marketing program.
However, asking the right questions during your selection process will help you make a better choice, and make sure you are comparing apples to apples.
Below is our list of the 7 most critical questions to ask your candidate PR agencies or professionals:
1. Based on the brief we provided, what do you think are our biggest PR challenges? What PR opportunities should we take advantage of?
The candidate’s answer to this question shows their understanding of your company, your current PR standing, and your PR goals. While you shouldn’t expect specific answers, this question will give you an indication of how thoughtful the agency is, and how well they can think strategically.
2. What is your experience in our industry? Do you have relationships with our target media contacts? Have you worked with similar companies like ours? Or have you worked with companies in the same industry?
Ideally, your PR agency or consultant will have experience working in your specific industry or market. If they’ve done PR for other companies in your sector, ask them to describe some campaigns they’ve done and what results they got. Take note that working in your industry — not necessarily in PR but in other forms — can be beneficial as well.
While you’re on this topic, make sure they’re not currently servicing your direct competitors. Also ask about some companies similar to yours they have worked with in the past. This helps you determine if there may be a possible conflict of interest.
3. How would you work with us? Who would handle our account? How will you handle work loads just in case the program has to expand?
Ask about the specifics of how they work with clients. Find out which specific person in their agency would handle the day-to-day tasks of your account. Make sure to meet and interview this person before making your final decision.
Also ask which senior staff would be available for consultation/advice regarding your account. Senior staff would not normally manage a client, but you should be able to tap into their expertise and wisdom when needed. In some PR agencies, veterans pitch to media, while junior PR associates handle the account. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, make sure at least one or two senior PR reps will oversee your account.
Find out what the agency’s or consultant’s working style is. Would they make an overall plan and then monthly action plans? You’ll want to know if their working style is compatible with your own style of getting things done, and your needs based on what stage your business is in right now.
The fundamental requirements for PR agencies can be the same for start-ups and existing companies. However, PR work for launching a startup is different than sustaining a present standing PR program.
For example, start-ups require quite a bit of set up (messaging, positioning, research and materials sourcing) before the PR campaign can take off. Find out what steps the PR agency takes in order to make sure they get strategic guidance from you.
On the other hand, if you’re an established company, you probably have existing documentation, messaging, and marketing strategies. Ask how they would work with you in this case. If you are currently working with a PR agency, but are now shopping for a new one, take a moment to ask yourself why. Make a list of reasons you want a new PR partner. These insights will also help you in your search.
It’s also useful to get an idea of how busy they are, and how much attention they can give your company. So ask, how many clients do they currently have and who are they?
4. How do you incorporate social and digital media in your PR campaigns?
PR is now closely integrated with social media as well as digital and mobile communication. Look for a PR firm or consultant who is familiar with these trends and, more importantly, knows how to harness them for PR. Ask for specific examples of how they’ve used digital, social or mobile communication to help a client reach their goals.
5. What client support do you provide?
Is support available 24/7 or only Mondays to Fridays during office hours? Can you call your account manager directly? How quickly do they respond to support issues?
You may not need your PR agency to be at your beck and call, but you do want one that will respond within a reasonable amount of time.
6. How do you measure success and the value you bring clients?
It’s crucial for you to determine the ROI of hiring a PR agency or consultant. Find out how they monitor their work and measure the value they bring to your business. What reports can you expect from them and how often? Their answers will show if they’ve been left behind counting column-inches, or if they’re forward thinking enough to monitor other metrics.
Some PR agencies and consultants will promise you the moon and stars when they’re pitching to you. This question brings the conversation back to a more realistic level.
7. How much do you charge? What is your fee structure?
For many companies, the cost of hiring one PR firm vs another is the deciding factor. After all, you can’t hire them if you can’t afford them. While you may not necessarily go with the one charging the lowest fees, you do want value for your money.
On the topic of money, you’ll also want to find out how they would bill you. Do they work on a project basis, or only on retainer? Or both? After you pick a PR firm, you may want to try them out on a specific project, before putting them on monthly retainer.
What Questions Would You Ask?
How about you? What questions would you ask if you were interviewing or listening to pitches from prospective PR agencies and consultants?
Does our list cover all the critical areas of decision-making? Or did we miss something?
Liz Estrella-Basilio is PR professional and the managing partner of Elena Verlee at Cross Border Communications. Together with Elena, they work with start-up to multi-million dollar technology companies who want to get their story heard in traditional, digital and social media.
She recently revived her Twitter account and will be out on the prowl to find those who are truly #FollowFriday-worthy on Twitter. Follow her at @lizestrellab.
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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