Making major decisions within your organization such as brand direction, where and when to expand your territory, a new product launch, or choosing a PR agency to work with can easily become taxing.
Decisions like these can be especially challenging because they tie directly into the success of your organization, but you have to give up control to experts who are not always working side-by-side with you.
Choosing a PR agency that cares almost as much about your business as you do is tough, but necessary because you really don’t want to decide to work with an agency only to be disappointed, fire that agency, and have to start the process all over again.
It’s just not fun for anyone involved and it’s exhausting.
The Process of Selection: It’s a Two-Way Street
There are many of us who have experienced decision-remorse and the street goes both ways.
Smart PR professionals know that bringing a new client into the fold is a process. It’s a process of communication, education, and expectation on both sides.
When choosing a PR agency, there are questions you can ask before committing. You can even go back and ask these question if you’ve already decided on a firm, to set expectations for all parties involved.
Ten Questions to Ask When Choosing a PR Agency
1. How do you measure results? We talk about measurement often at PHANTOM POWER. That’s because it’s essential to the success of an agency in retaining clients and tangibly moving the needle on ROI. Tip: Media impressions and advertising equivalency alone do not move the needle and results they do not make.
2. How do you stay on top of current events and trends? This helps you gauge whether or not an agency is growing and adapting or is instead using a more traditional approach. Are they actively researching and engaging influencers and uncovering new ways to add value to your organization? Are they on top of the constantly evolving media landscape and the many ways content is being absorbed by the public... above and beyond social media?
3. What will you need from our team? This ties into things such as, Will we need to create content or connect your agency with an expert from our team or will you manage those things? How often will our organization need to be available for meetings or interviews?
4. How often should I expect to see media coverage? This question is HUGE. You can’t leave the answer up to interpretation. Even though an agency may not give you an exact number of times you will be covered by the media on a monthly basis (this isn’t advertising), they should be able to at least provide you with a range. It is absolutely and unapologetically unacceptable to pay a monthly retainer without receiving monthly coverage.
Another piece of this ties into results in number 1 above. Set reporting expectations early. Ask them how they will report coverage to you? You can easily set up your own Google Alerts. What you want to know is whether they work with a clipping service and offer those kinds of capabilities. Whether they have tracking tools to gauge mentions and sentiment.
5. How do you integrate media relations with other communication? This is something PHANTOM POWER finds essential given our integrated marketing approach. This answer will communicate to you whether they are aware of the need to integrate marketing mediums or whether you should expect to keep from being siloed. No matter how "niche" you may consider yourself, there is no longer one way to reach all people. If you get the sense integration is not part of their plan, or not one of their strengths we advise you to look elsewhere.
6. How else can you help our organization? This is a great tag-on to the above question. Yes, you’re coming to this agency for media relations, but it’s quite possible they are successful in other areas, such as content marketing or social media.
7. Why should we choose you? It may seem like a no-brainer initially, but this question can help you get a grasp of what differentiates a particular agency from another. Don't underestimate the value of this question. Any PR firm worth it's salt knows how to communicate their unique differentiators because that is the job they must be doing for you.
8. Will we be expected to pay additional fees? PHANTOM POWER has heard one too many clients say they had additional fees tacked on to secure ‘media coverage.’ If you have to pay a fee for an interview or feature, that coverage is not PR… it’s advertising. Think about the old school days of payola... and that it was eventually made illegal.
Note: This does not include budget allowances for special efforts such as blogger reviews.
9. Do you have contacts within our industry? If the answer is yes, ask to see the coverage the agency has secured within your industry. You may decide to choose a PR agency even if they don’t have industry contacts. In that case, ask for case studies in similar industries.
10. Do you have client experience within our industry? Choosing a PR agency that has had other clients within your industry is a plus. That said, some clients see others in the same industry as competitors. To avoid a conflict of interest, find similar industries where the agency has experience.
This question doesn't have to be a deal-breaker. If an Agency consistently shows results across a multitude of industries it can also prove they have the skills, teams and tactics in place to perform proper research, consumer behavior analysis, and understanding of media trends across demographics.
Great PR agencies want to be a partner and asset to your organization. And if you’re finding that is not the case with your current agency, then it might be time to make a switch. Ask questions and try to understand how you and your agency can work together to further the success of your brand.