How to Pick a Public Relations Agency

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There are many, many public relations agencies in the marketplace today. Picking the right PR agency for your organization can be a daunting task.

The best way to begin is to ask yourself some key questions about your PR needs. Once answered, these will help you narrow the search to agencies that have the resources you need to get the job done.

Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Public Relations Agency

  1. What am I seeking to accompish with my PR efforts? I know this sounds obvious, but many companies engage their public relations agency without a clear sense for what they want to accomplish. Are you looking to drive sales? Manage your reputation? Build awareness for your brand? Handle or prepare for crises? Support an upcoming transaction? These are very different and you’ll want to find an agency with experience in your area.
  2. What is the expected scope of my PR efforts? If you’ve gone through the question above, you may have a good sense for this already. But make sure you think it through. Are your public relations efforts going to be national, international or local? Is it an ongoing program you are looking at or a project with a start and end date? Does it require a large team or a small one? Think through scale at the beginning. It will position you well to assess your needs.
  3. Do I have in-house resources to put toward PR? Smaller companies will often need an agency that can do it all, since often there are not resources available to pitch in. However, larger organizations may well have people able to participate. If your company does a lot of writing, for example, you may not need your agency to produce press releases and other content. Understand what you can do yourself so you don’t end up paying for the same skills twice.
  4. What is my PR budget? Before you even begin speaking with agencies, you should determine your budget for PR. Most agencies bill on a monthly basis, so calculate it that way. Can you afford $3,000 a month? $7,000 a month? This will help you decide what sorts of agencies are in your price range and how full a scope of services you can afford.
  5. What kinds of people do I like to work with? Here, I’m driving at chemistry. Agencies can be very different. Some are young and hip. Others have more of a boardroom feel to them. What kinds of folks do you enjoy working with? What types of individuals are you comfortable managing? Be honest with yourself here because your publicist and the agency behind him or her are going to be working closely with you for quite a while.
  6. Am I a good candidate for public relations? This ties a bit to No. 1 but goes deeper. Public relations works best over time. It’s about building relationships with reporters, editors, bloggers and producers. It does not happen overnight. If you’re looking for results today and tomorrow, PR may not be realistic for you. Announcing a transaction is one thing. But building steady and substantial media coverage definitely requires a sustained effort over time.

Once you’ve gone through these six questions, you should have a pretty good sense for what you need. Then, it’s a simple matter of getting public relations agency names and interviewing firms.

It’s a lot like buying a car. You probably would not want to shop for a convertable if you’re planning to winter in Alaska.

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