In the HEYMAMA forums, we see so many questions on hiring a PR agency—from who to hire to how much to pay. But, before hiring an agency to tell your brand’s story, it’s important to ask yourself the right questions. Lisa Smith, co-founder of The PR Net (a network for leading marketers, communicators and media), shares what you should ask before engaging a PR pro to communicate your story to the world.
1. Are we ready?
You as the client must be ready to take on a PR campaign and make the investment worthwhile. Ask yourself questions like whether you have the materials they may need (brand collateral, media samples, etc), people and bandwidth on your side to facilitate the agency’s activities, and production capacity and distribution to supply potentially increased demand.
2. What is my budget?
It’s important to not only consider the retainer, but also the sundry expenses that go along with it (couriers, travel, etc), plus whether you have the budget to create activations/partnerships/events and newsworthy activities that the agency will utilize to garner coverage.
Be sensible with the spend. If you look at PR as a percentage of your marketing budget, it doesn’t make sense to blow a crazy amount that you can’t justify. For example, if your annual turnover is 1 million, spending $10,000/month on PR is too huge a chunk of your budget, when this could be invested into other channels that are more fundamental to the bottom line and future success of your company.
3. Do we need a big agency?
It might seem alluring to go with larger/better-known agencies with big-name clients (and usually bigger fees), but if you’re an emerging or boutique brand: ask yourself whether you’ll receive the personalized attention and dedication you want from the team servicing your account. You may be better served by an agency or consultancy with a smaller roster and more hands-on senior staff.
4. Who’ll be my day-to-day contact?
Don’t assume that the people in your pitch meetings will necessarily be the people working on your day-to-day campaign. If it’s not mentioned, then find out—and get to know—who that person is and their credentials. You’ll want to know that you can establish a good rapport with them as you’ll be in regular contact.
5. What are their reporting protocols like?
It’s good to know in advance what the agency or consultant’s reporting system looks like. Ask about frequency of in-person meetings, phone meetings, reports and clippings round-ups and what those look like.
6. How does the agency’s creative ideation stack up?
It goes without saying that these days a PR pro’s approach should encompass a range of tactics, not just the release pitching style of the past. They should be able to demonstrate and ideate around a 360-degree plan that creatively tackles your needs.
When reviewing, consider whether you received their standard pitch template, or did the agency respond to your business’ objectives with a tailored and well-thought-out pitch?
7. How do they interact with you during the initial pitch and procurement process?
If they’re not motivated at this stage, or it takes forever to get a proposal, ask yourself how this bodes for your future relationship.
8. Do they have any relevant case studies?
While it may not be necessary to have worked on a company in the exact same space as yours, it is comforting to see a depth of experience in a similar wheelhouse or vertical. Ask whether the agency can provide case studies of similar projects. PR skills may be transferable cross-category, but if you see they’ve achieved great results for a competitor, you should be in good hands.
9. How are you setting expectations and benchmarks of success?
What are your objectives and expectations of PR? If you, particularly after consulting with a PR agency, can’t answer these questions and don’t feel confident that you know the ‘why’ and road map/KPIs for how you get there, then you may not be ready to embark on this process.
PR will not solve every issue your business has ever had, nor should anyone guarantee that you’ll see an instant upswing in sales conversions. If that’s your aim and expectation, you may be better served by an AdWords or paid social media campaign.
Perhaps being on the cover of [insert desired publication here] won’t be the best way to realize your business goals, so be realistic about what you are trying to achieve and open to ideas about how that can happen.
It is wise to establish expectations and benchmarks early on that you can measure against, to ensure you and your PR rep are on the same page. There are never any guarantees with media relations and events, but there should be some general metrics you can set around activities in the campaign that help keep you and your agency on track.