9 Things You Must Consider When Hiring a PR Agency

The ultimate goal of a PR agency is to effectively tell a story. And in today’s landscape, the best-in-class PR agencies are those that know how vital it is to shift from one-way communications to two-way (co-creation) conversations that help marketers see outcomes rather than measuring just outputs.  But finding the right agency to tell your story can be time-consuming and an all-around difficult process. Based on the agency’s connections, experience, and approach, the strategies they use can be vastly different.

According to studies, only 33% of CMOs are happy with their agency roster. Considering there are experienced agency search consultants to help marketers make more confident decisions, this number is simply unacceptable

Not all PR agencies are equal, and it’s crucial to choose wisely because without PR, no one will know about all your business has to offer. Telling a compelling story that targets the correct audience in the most cost-effective way is absolutely crucial across all of today’s industries.

If you’re looking for a PR agency to craft your communications, here are nine things you must consider during your search:

1. Domain Expertise and Experience Is A Must.

When searching for a PR agency, it’s crucial to ask yourself if the agency you’re considering has direct experience in your respective market. Having a strong understanding of the market and direct competitors will avoid spending too much time on a learning curve with your new agencies. This way, they can quickly start producing results and making a difference for your organization.

When choosing an agency, it’s important to hire one who is seen as an expert in their field. This typically consists of a team of seasoned members who can provide high-level strategy and assist you in making business decisions. When looking for an agency, ideally you will find one that not only knows your industry but is deeply passionate about it.

According to sources, a survey of communications professionals found most felt the following concepts would be more important to PR in 2018: 79% of respondents said storytelling; 71% said content marketing, and 67% said thought leadership.

2. Your Budget Depends On Your Needs.

An important thing to keep in mind is one size does not fit all with agency budgets. When approaching the industry, it’s crucial to customize your program based on key objectives and the current needs of the business. Don’t enter the space with an exact number in mind for budget, but rather understand the different opportunities available and which ones present themselves as necessities.

3. Quantity Over Quality I think you mean Quality over Quantity here

“More equals better” is not necessarily always the right motto. When it comes to sharing your work with media outlets, you want to choose ones that are not only a large audience but also speaking to your target audience.

A good PR agency will work to secure meaningful interviews for your brand, not just a high volume of interviews. Their media pitches will not blast every publication in the nation- they will be crafted to target specific journalists who cover expertise in your arena and publications in which your target audiences follow.

4. Connections Are Key

When choosing a PR agency, it’s crucial to understand who exactly will be on your specific team. You see, pitching to journalists is no easy tasks. Odds are, if the journalist doesn’t know you, you aren’t getting a response… unless you craft one incredibly personalized email. At least one industry leader should have relationships with the journalists and influencers you’re targeting. After all, how wide the firm’s connections will determine how much benefit you and your team will get through working with them and in the future. The space is all about relationships, so be sure not to overlook that detail when searching.

5. How Will You Measure Success?

Success in the PR world is often defined by media placements and increased followers on social media pages. In order to determine if your PR efforts are working, you must first know what success looks like. However, terms of success are different for everyone. What does success mean to you? More importantly, how do you plan on measuring progress in those areas? Without signals of improvement, it’s nearly impossible to determine if the effort being put forth is effective.

According to The Muse, “Your PR agency should provide you with some combination of daily, weekly, and monthly media reports that provide a comprehensive overview of how media outlets are covering your brand and your industry.”

6. What is Your Plan for Collaboration?

A successful PR-client relationship should be collaborative, and the level of collaboration should be stated and agreed upon before any commitments are made. Both sides being available is crucial to company success. Chemistry between you and the agency can make or break the process as a whole. Find out how much is expected of you, and be willing to commit to that before hiring an agency.

“It’s important to think of your PR firm as a natural extension of your own team. Given that you’ll be in constant communication, and that you will have to trust your firm with sensitive information and tasks, it’s important that the chemistry is there.” –Tanya Carlsson, PR Director | Offleash

As the one hiring the firm, you’re going to have to define which metrics matter most to you. Come up with a plan ahead of time for how you’re going to measure them. Working with a PR firm isn’t for every business, but when executed correctly PR firms can help generate awareness, keep you in the media spotlight, grow your customer base, and keep you a few steps ahead of your competitors.

7. What are Your Business Objectives?

This may sound obvious, but if you don’t know where your business is going, you’re not in a position to hire someone else to try and get you there. Knowing your product and its place in the market is essential prior to asking someone to shape communications and a plan to support them. This also includes understanding your buyer personas and target audience and being able to clearly communicate this to the PR firm.

8. Can the Same Efforts Be Made In-House?

Sometimes, it might make more sense to provide in-house support brought by someone within the company who knows that business inside and out rather than an outsider. This can be a perfect option for businesses with really specific communications needs. Having PR in-house also means your team is completely focused on the company and the products it markets.

Keep in mind, however, that PR done in-house does have its conns. Typically, in-house PR agencies don’t have as big of a contact list as an agency would, meaning reach may be more limited. Additionally, employees working in an in-house situation typically have more broad skills where at an agency, there are specific people who specialist in particular areas of PR.  Not to mention, experience from other categories, brands, consumer groups could be a benefit to your brand’s needs by leveraging some outside learnings.

9. Is the Name Trustworthy?

While the actual name of the agency is irrelevant, whether or not they are a trusted source within the industry is crucial. The brand and reputation attached to the name are extremely important when searching for PR agency options. Asking whether or not the firm has taken the time to build a solid brand over the years is essential. Are they thought leaders in the space? This can be answered by case studies potentially, and choosing an agency that most closely aligns with your goals and is reliable is the best way to go about your search.

If you need additional clarification on the best way to approach a PR agency search, feel free to call or email me directly at 212-400-1470/ Lisa@aarpartners.com for a confidential conversation about any of your agency relationships issues and/or needs.

Tags: Agency Search, CMOs

Lisa Colantuono

Lisa Colantuono is the President of AAR Partners. An agency search consultant for over two decades, Lisa is also an avid writer. Lisa has contributed many articles in top industry trades such as Forbes, Huffington Post, Advertising Age, Adweek and HubSpot Blogs’ Agency Post. Recently, Lisa entered the world of publishing with her book, @AARLisa: New Biz in 140 characters (or Less), written for the on-the-go new business exec that needs cut-to-the-chase insights to nail new business wins again and again. Lisa is also part of the industry speaking circuit, presenting at national conferences including 4A’s Transformation Conference, AAF Admerica National Conference, BOLO, HOW Design Live, Mirren, and AdAge Small Agency Conference.