12 Things You Should Know Before Hiring a PR Agency

Sarah Segal

Office Analyzing Data

Whoa, there, movers, shakers, and game-changers! Before you go out and hire the first public relations agency with five-star reviews, there are at least 10 things you need to know about what PR folks do.

First, you may find you don’t even need a PR firm (yet!). Or, your savvy quest may lead to the realization that not all PR agencies are created equal, and some are more suited to your brand vision and goals than others.

10 Things You Should Know Before Hiring Public Relations Pros (+ 2 bonus tips)

To that end, we’ve put together a list of the at least a dozen things every business owner should know before signing any dotted lines.

1. Are you clear about what PR agencies are and what they do?

We’ll be blunt; you’d be amazed at how many business owners don’t really know what a PR firm is anyway but heard they need to get themselves one. More commonly, owners confuse public relations and marketing. It’s easy to do, so don’t get shy if you fall into this category. Admitting what you aren’t clear about allows space to learn more so you can make better, strategic decisions for your company.

PR agencies are focused on creating compelling stories about your brand and keeping them fresh. We also handle pre- and post-crisis management planning. And, although we certainly leverage the power of social media, we’re more focused on getting your story out using mainstream media coverage and positive exposure via influencers. Then, just keep you on your toes, there are PR firms (like us) who are happy to serve as both PR and marketing strategists if you don’t have your own marketing team and those that don’t.

For a more detailed explanation, read What Does a Public Relations Agency Do? If you’re still not clear, consults with prospective PR agencies will provide further clarity. Understanding what a PR company does is the first step in establishing whether your company or brand is ready to invest in professional public relations.

2. Do you need a PR firm…yet?

There are times when we recommend entrepreneurs align with a PR agency right off the bat because the brand is prepared to grow bigger and broader. There are other times when, as much as we’d love to promote a brand, we feel like the company needs to identify their story, stretch, and grow a bit more before making the investment.

You may determine that you’re not quite ready for professional PR, in which case we recommend, How to Do Your Own PR.

You’re probably ready to hire a PR agency if/when:

  • Your niche is relatively saturated, and you aren’t able to rank above major competitors
  • The local market is aware of you, but you’re ready to build brand recognition at the next level(s)
  • You’ve realized that staying relevant requires long-term vision, goals, and continued communication with media/influencers sucks up too much inhouse time/energy
  • It’s been a while since you’ve been front-and-center in any top-tier media outlets (journalists, podcasters, industry or mainstream magazines, newspapers, the guest on a local show, etc.)
  • You’re not a great writer or speaker (or marketer, or videographer, or photographer), which is necessary to achieve the latter-mentioned journalist showboating required for good PR OR you are good at those things but are trying to run a business and don’t have the time.

Do one or more of those resonate with you? Start looking for PR agencies who speak your brand’s language.

3. Are they in your price range?

As you can imagine, PR firms are wildly successful self-publicists. So, the agency that caught your eye may be way out of your price range. Every business likes to be a bit sneaky, luring in prospects and then forming such a warm and fuzzy bond that the consumer will just hit “Buy Now!” in ecstatic glee.

You, however, are a business owner with a closely guarded bottom line, so budget is king. Honor that and be upfront with what your budget boundaries. There’s no point in hiring public relations gurus if the investment puts you out of business before they can work their magic.

Also, don’t forget to ask how they bill. By project? By the hour? By the service tier?

Time for Internal Reflection and Data Collection

If you’re more grounded in those first four considerations, we’ll continue with the meaty stuff.
These are the things you’d want to establish with your company’s key players when meeting before meeting with potential PR teams for your brand.

4. Can you provide definitive and salient story points?

Remember that we said PR is all about telling the right stories? PR stories are like sagas – with a beginning and a middle…and, the goal being to not have an end for quite some time. A compelling saga requires:

  • Heroes (your brand, products, and services, employees and customer service peeps)
  • Villains (your customer pain points and, possibly, your competition but that’s delicate)
  • A plot that makes hearts swell with engaged emotion
  • Great visuals and other experiential features

For your PR team to take all that and write great stories, you’ll need to be clear on your brand’s salient “story points” such as:

  • Do you have the makings of a cool, heartwarming, exciting, or “I get that!” kind of story about the brand’s origin? Or its growth? Or key customers/employees? Company miracles?
  • Can you define your niche?
  • Do you have a clear idea of who your target audience members are, in detailed demographics?
  • Are you able to name clear ways you’re different from your competitor(s)?

The more you can concisely synthesize the story, feeling, energy, and nuances of your brand, the better prospective PR agencies can present their ideas and strategies for you.

5. What are your main objectives for the PR agency (i.e., why the heck are you hiring them?)

If you don’t have concrete objectives to bring to the table, a client-hungry firm will eat you right up. They’ll create fluffy, beautiful, rosy goals and objectives for your brand, using so many industry terms and acronyms that you’ll be dizzy with desire. Then, you’ll walk away feeling confused about what just happened.

Being clear about your objectives, and what you plan to achieve through public relations support, protects you from investing too early or selecting the wrong company to represent you.

6. Do you have market research to present?

Don’t get us wrong. Your PR team will do their homework and research once you’ve contracted with them. If they really want you, they may even do some proactive research to wow you with their intuitive greatness.

Regardless, bring any solid market research you have via in-house efforts or consultant/analysts you’ve used in the past (this includes HubSpot or website host’s analytics about website and social media performance). Gather up videos and print footage, or any other public exposure you’ve had. This gives the PR firm more information to brainstorm further goals, suggestions, and strategies based on where you’ve been, where you are now, what’s worked and what hasn’t and where you plan to be in X years down the road.

7. Are your key players and team onboard? And, who’s the point person?

We highly recommend meeting with management, key players, and staff/employees before you hire PR help. In #4, we mentioned that your staff and customer service peeps are heroes in your stories. At the very least, they’re Main Characters.

Let them know that hiring a PR firm means change may be on the horizon. Your brand reps need to tell a unified story, and that requires specific language, lingo, customer interaction, etc. It also requires a unified company language and culture. Those are all things the PR pros may come in and work with via in-person or webinar training, rewording of existing content/documents/customer service scripts, etc., and specific instructions regarding internal and external communication.

You’ll also want to identify a point person, lead contact, or PR manager who is there from the beginning and is the chief liaison between your company and the PR agency.

Ask PR Agencies the Right Questions

If you’ve considered all of the above and you’re moving forward with hiring a professional PR agency, it’s time to learn what prospective agencies can do for you.

8. What are your niches? And are we one of them?

Some PR firms operate across the industry spectrum, but most have a few “favorites” or niche industries/brand markets based on their team’s experience and passions. You want to select a PR firm that specializes in and has experience with your brand’s niche.

Some PR firms offer the roundabout of services and have specific industry niches. Others are oriented around specific aspects of public relations services, specializing in particulars such as communication, media relations, community-based brand development, internal employee/staff communication and policies, non-profit promotion, or public affairs PR.

9. Do they offer the services your brand needs most?

The PR world can be hard to define. It uses marketing, we’re experienced at marketing, but we’re not the same as a marketing firm. Some of us offer only the services that reflect our niche expertise. Examples of prospective services or attributes include:

  • Brand and product launches
  • Media training for you and your key players
  • Event conception and planning
  • Tradeshow planning
  • Promotional events and publicity stunts
  • Community event planning and publicity stunts
  • Established relationships with your industry’s influencers and game-changers
  • Content amplification
  • Social media monitoring
  • Pre- and Post-crisis communication planning and training
  • Creative direction and advertising campaigns

The list goes on, and many companies offer a bit of all-of-the-above. Your job is to find the one with service focuses in sync with your brand’s short- and long-term objectives. Don’t be afraid to ask if you can speak to current and former clients to see if they got what they paid for, and to learn more about prospective PR agencies’ strengths and weaknesses

10. How do they work with existing marketing teams?

If you don’t have a marketing team, your PR firm will take over that role, or they’ll refer you to marketers they trust. If you have an existing marketing team, and you love them, prospective PR firms should provide clear information about how they integrate with client teams.

The goal is for the public relations/marketing team integration to happen slowly, smoothly, and consistently, with the two sides’ cultures similar or complementary enough to enjoy a symbiotic relationship.

Finally, Some PR Hiring Bonus Tips

Here are the two bonus tips to round out your ideal, HR hiring preparation process.

11. Who will you be working with? And, do you like them?

Bells and whistles, stats and numbers – those are all terrific. However, there are enough PR firms out there that the best on paper, and the one with the most compelling promises, might not be the right one for your brand.

You owe it to yourselves and your employees (not to mention your customers) to like the people working for your PR agency.

Ask who, specifically, you’d be working with. If they aren’t there, ask for a meeting with him/her/them as well. Make sure you feel comfortable telling them what you like, what you don’t, and also being comfortable receiving feedback and constructive feedback or training about how you can do better. Optimally, you’ll be working with these individuals – and the agency – for many years to come.

12. Are you ready to work with someone else to promote your brand?

This is a partnership. Your brand’s success will happen faster, stronger, and more organically if you’ve found a PR agency you’re excited to work with on a regular basis. If you like the idea of hiring a PR agency, but you are struggling with giving up control or are a micro-manager by nature, do some internal work first so your PR partnership can be successful from the start.

Segal Communications is a Bay Area public relations firm that thrives on helping clients’ brands shine bigger and brighter, land regular, top-tier media coverage, and who is as happy to consult with you in the short-term as we are to form a lifelong partnership. Contact us to get started.

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