Once an organization has tackled the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of public relations, it is common to have the ‘ah-ha’ moment where an organization identifies that they, in some capacity, need to incorporate a PR campaign into their business plan. If the organization does not have the time or resources to support this plan internally, they quickly turn to experts that can be outsourced to complete the task at hand. The challenge that many face however, is how one goes about shopping for and hiring a PR firm. Since the world of public relations is surrounded by many misconceptions, it may be confusing about what to look for when comparing the pro’s and con’s of different firms.
Below is a list of steps to consider when shopping for a PR firm. Following this process will help to eliminate wasted time and will produce profitable and effective results in the end.
1. Identify the Expectations: Establish a plan to identify why a public relations campaign is a tool that should be implemented and set expectations for the results that need to be achieved. The goals may include financial numbers that need to be met by a specific date, new industries to surface in, new markets to target, or publications to secure exposure in. These goals will automatically qualify specific firms as a potential fit for a partnership based on the level of experience they already have with meeting the specific goals.
2. Utilize Existing Information: Research various resources to see which PR firms are recognized in the public eye, are social and involved in the community, and have experience in the industry.
3. Narrow the Selection: Identify three to five firms that are a fit and study their Web sites to gain a better understanding for who they are and why they would be an ideal partner. Learn about the team members and their experience, understand the kind of work they have done to date, and eliminate any organizations that don’t seem stable, positive or passionate about what they do. If any of these feelings are gathered during the initial research process, trust these feelings and move on to the next firm because these traits will become apparent in the work they produce.
4. Address the Right Questions: After the meeting has been scheduled, be sure to inform the prospective partner of any materials you wish to collect at the face-to-face meeting, such as sales literature, work samples, references, testimonials, or a cost proposal. Acknowledge the meeting as a mutual interview and be comfortable opening up about organizational struggles, concerns and hopes for the future.
Below is a list of questions to help guide the meeting:
o What experience does your agency have with organizations similar to mine?
o How would you describe your relationship with members of the media that are relevant to my industry?
o Do you manage clients from the same industry that may be competition to one another?
o Who would manage my account? What is his/her experience?
o Are you comfortable signing a non-disclosure agreement?
o How do you gauge the success of a given campaign?
o How do you bill for your services? What items are billable? What items are non-billable?
o What makes your organization unique?
o What are some examples of your creative abilities to think outside of the box to generate optimal results?
o Why do your clients choose to work with you?
o Why do you like working in the field of public relations?
o What about my company interests you?
5. Evaluate the Potential Partners: Reflect on the personalities of the organization’s team and to review the answers collected from the meetings. Also be sure to consider how personable and genuine the firm was throughout the meeting. These two characteristics can often define how successful a partnership will be and will shed a light on how trustworthy an organization is.
6. Form the Alliance: Once a firm has been selected, set-up a meeting to discuss the arrangements and next steps. It is common for PR firms to request a minimum commitment of one year, but be sure that the contract also allows for flexibility. In the unfortunate situation that the firm is not meeting their goals within the first six months, there needs to be an option to withdrawal from the relationship. Before the contract is signed and in place, identify what to expect over the next year and request a campaign plan to use as a guide for the partnership.
Despite the complexity of the public relations industry, hiring a high-quality firm should not be a daunting task. If anything, it should be a great learning experience to understand the PR industry in greater depth and to further develop your business by relying on experts to implement this effective promotional tactic that has proven itself in the business world. By following the steps listed above, an organization will be able to quickly screen firms as a possible fit and to walk away with a strong partnership that will ease the internal responsibility of building an organization’s brand.