How to pick a PR company to support your business

October 2021
 

Don’t rush the process of appointing a Public Relations (PR) company. Getting the right fit should be a top priority as it will help to open doors and deliver more relevant results.

The right PR company for your business will have experience in your industry and understand your target market. Brief candidates well and set up a clear selection process and this will help guide you to make the most suitable choice.

Why hire a PR company?

When you’re running a small business, the job of PR often falls within the wider remit of the marketing team or even the founders. With no clear ownership of PR, many aspects of this role often get overlooked.

This is where a PR agency can come in and create noticeable differences. But what kind of roles can be outsourced? While not exhaustive, here are some of the key tasks you could hire a PR company to do.

  • Media relations, including media outreach and writing press releases
  • Reputation and crisis management
  • Event planning
  • Social media strategy and management
  • Copywriting, including blogs, web copy, social content, speech writing and biographies

Preparing a PR brief

It’s unlikely that you will have all the finer details of your brief outlined at this stage. However, you will need to consider some key points to help each PR agency pitch appropriately.

1. Understand your objectives

This will probably be the first topic of discussion, as it’s PR agency’s job to deliver a campaign that meets your objectives. Start by thinking about the value of PR for your business and why you’re choosing to hire a PR firm now.

Are you:

  1. Looking to engage with new audiences that you’re finding it difficult to reach?
  2. Aiming to increase your reach on certain social media channels?
  3. Creating a launch plan for a new product or service?

Once you appoint the PR agency, put together a plan using the SMART methodology.

  • Specific. If your goal is to increase press coverage, state how much you aim to achieve and in what kind of publications
  • Measurable. How you intend to measure your success at meeting the goals
  • Achievable. Talk to the PR company to be sure that the goal is achievable with the people, money, and tools you have available
  • Relevant. Ensure that the goal is aligned to your objectives to avoid wasting time going down the wrong path
  • Time-bound. Set a timeframe for your goal: are those 10 pieces of press coverage due in the first month or the first quarter?

You won’t always have the SMART objectives outlined at the pitching stage, but any additional information you can provide will help. For example, if there is a strict deadline or you have an essential target audience to reach, say so.

2. Communicate your values

How clear are your company’s vision and values? Now is a good time to question this and revisit them if necessary. Your PR company will be able to deliver a much stronger campaign if these are agreed in advance.

It’s important for a brand to know its vision and values intimately and make sure these are widely communicated.

It’s important to constantly remind yourself what your business stands for. Bear this in mind when you’re planning your PR campaign. Your values should influence your message, the channels you use and the PR company you employ.

3. Be honest and fair

How many PR companies are pitching for the job and what will the recruitment process be? Be upfront about your process and make sure everyone has the same brief.

Provide clear instructions about what you expect to see in the brief. This could include document types, supporting information and time allocation if you’re asking them to deliver a formal presentation.

Be transparent about budget. How much is available and what additional in-house resources can you offer, such as staff time or subscriptions to relevant tools?

Choosing a PR company

Many factors will influence how suitable a PR company is for your particular needs. The firm might come highly recommended and have a big client base, but it’s important to meet them in person and see how they respond to your brief before taking them on.

Work through this checklist to decide how to choose a PR agency.

Experience and suitability

1. Relevant work experience in your sector.

This should be established before you even invite the PR company to pitch. How much evidence do they have of working with businesses in similar sectors or at similar growth stages?

This doesn’t just indicate that they will understand your business. It lets you know that they will have useful connections and be able to create meaningful opportunities for you.

2. Examples of meeting similar objectives.

Look for case studies that show how the agency has met similar objectives to yours. What challenges did they face and how did they overcome them? How successful were the end results?

3. Meeting your brief

How well have they addressed the brief you provided? A good PR agency will show an understanding of the target audience, provide evidence of how they will reach them and come up with creative ideas.

4. Personal commitment to your cause

While it isn’t essential, it’s a bonus if the team can provide personal evidence that they are passionate about your business. Perhaps your product is related to travel and they have lived abroad, for example. Or you’re offering an eco-friendly service and they volunteer for a sustainability charity.

Small things can make a difference when it comes to motivation and commitment to your campaign.

Credentials

5. Testimonials/case studies

It’s easy to sell the successes of previous work in a pitch, but what would the client tell you? Ask for a couple of client contacts to talk to directly. Follow up on any aspects you are unsure about and find out how they approached setbacks and challenges.

6. Awards and press coverage

Has the agency won any awards in recent years or had positive press coverage? These can be good indicators of how the agency works with clients and builds their own company profile.

7. Accreditation

Bodies like the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) set professional standards for PR and marketing professionals. Accreditation to these bodies shows dedication to quality practice.

Tools and systems

8. Reporting capabilities

What tools and systems will the team use to measure and analyse whether your objectives have been met? Can they provide examples of reports they create for other clients?

9. Subscriptions

If gaining media coverage is an objective, then PR tools such as media databases and newswire subscriptions are important. They can improve efficiency when it comes to building media contacts and gathering press cuttings.

10. Content creation

What content will need to be created and how will the agency deliver this? Do they have in-house copywriters, designers and videographers, or trusted freelancers that they use?

11. Social know-how

If social media is part of your agenda, find out about any benefits they can offer. Many tools and services are subscription-based and take time to master – prior expertise will give your campaign a head start.

Team rapport

12. Who will be on your team?

Often, the people pitching to you will not be working on the day-to-day delivery. Ask who will be your main point of contact and get their credentials. You may require another meeting before making your final decision.

13. Is there any rapport?

This question can easily get overlooked and yet it’s crucial. You will be working closely with the PR agency you choose, so it’s vital that you can build a good working relationship and understand each other.

How to choose a PR agency

Brief candidates well and set up a clear selection process to help you make the most suitable choice.

Dos and don’ts for your PR brief

Do set objectives. Why are you hiring a PR company and what do you want them to achieve? For example, do you want to reach new audiences or increase press coverage?

Do communicate your company values. Now is a good time to check in with your vision and values. Your PR company will be able to deliver a much stronger campaign if these are communicated well

Do provide clear instructions. Make sure it’s clear what you expect to see in the brief, such as document types, supporting information and time allocation

X Don’t treat agencies differently. Make sure everyone has the same brief

X Don’t hide the budget. Be honest about how much is available and what in-house resources you can offer, such as staff time, subscriptions to relevant tools and systems

Checklist for finding a PR agency

  • Relevant work experience in your sector. How much evidence do they have of working with similar businesses in terms of sector, size, or stage of growth?
  • Examples of meeting similar objectives. Look for case studies that show how the agency has met similar objectives to those you have set
  • Meeting your brief. How well have they addressed the brief you provided?
  • Personal commitment to your cause. It’s a bonus if the team can provide personal evidence that they are passionate about your business
  • Testimonials or case studies. Ask for a couple of client contacts to talk to directly
  • Awards and press coverage. Have they won awards or had press coverage recently?
  • Accreditation. Accreditation to professional bodies shows dedication to quality practice
  • Reporting. What tools and systems will the team use to measure success?
  • Subscriptions. Media databases, newswire subscriptions and social media tools can improve efficiency
  • Content creation. Do they have in-house copywriters, designers and videographers, or trusted freelancers that they use?
  • Who will be on your team? Ask who you’ll be working with and get their credentials
  • Is there any rapport? It’s vital that you can build a good working relationship with your PR agency
 

 

This article was written and originally published by The Productivity Group (trading as Be the Business). Be the Business is an independent, not for profit organisation set up to help business owners and leaders improve the performance of their business. © Copyright 2021 The Productivity Group.  All rights reserved.

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