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Public relations (PR) is a multi-faceted effort to manage and build a positive reputation. Powerful PR work includes many things, such as media relations and public sentiment. PR plays a critical role in business success by providing comprehensive brand management.
Some important PR efforts include building brand awareness, being proactive in creating powerful brand messaging, managing marketing campaigns, monitoring reputations and doing damage control in response to adverse incidents that attract negative attention.
How do you assess your PR needs?
To assess your PR needs, start by defining your goals and objectives for PR. Identify your target audience and stakeholders. Make a list of the PR services you need and the scope of the services required. Before searching for a PR agency, calculate a realistic budget for your PR.
Now that you know what you want and how much you can pay, the next step is finding an agency that is a good fit.
How do you identify potential PR agencies?
Begin your search for agency candidates by conducting thorough online research, including exploring agency websites, reading industry news and checking publications. Seek advice through social media and professional networks. You may want to consult industry-specific directories and associations. Ask for recommendations from industry peers and colleagues.
Create a checklist of desirable agency qualities and give weight to the various factors on a ranking scale of one to 10.
For a real-world PR firm evaluation, use this checklist:
Industry experience and expertise
Track record and past client success
Reputation and credibility
Client retention rate
Creativity and innovation
Team composition and qualifications
Communication and responsiveness
Ability to understand and meet business objectives
Measurable results and ROI
Alignment with company values and culture
Look for an agency with experience in your industry or niche. Review agency portfolios and case studies. Examine past PR campaigns and successes. Analyze client testimonials and references. Research industry awards and recognition.
After you have assembled as much research as possible, the next part of the process is to meet with PR agencies for an evaluation.
What should you ask PR agencies when you meet them?
Schedule initial meetings with your top picks. During the meetings, focus on the PR team and past results to understand their PR strategy and planning approach. Ask about the team’s expertise and experience. What is the founder’s story? What has been the growth trajectory of their clients? How many companies have they grown?
Request all media hits they secured for two or three clients over the past 90 to 120 days. Look to see what kind of press the founder and the agency secured for themselves.
Discuss reporting and performance measurement. How do they compensate staff for a key performance metric hit? How many promotions have the members of the team, who would be assigned to your account, received in the last 12 to 18 months? What does their company off-site look like?
After collecting all these key data points, assess their ability to adapt to your specific needs and goals, and don’t be shy when talking about money.
Can you afford it?
PR agencies may use different fee structures. Most require a retainer to get started, and then the billing for services may be project-based, hourly or some combination. Request detailed pricing proposals from each agency under consideration. Compare pricing in relation to the services offered. Naturally, you will want to negotiate the terms of the agency agreement and ensure transparency regarding costs.
Typical PR campaigns cost between $10,000-$15,000 per month and are executed over 6-12 months. If you’re planning to IPO, plan on spending $25,000 or more per month. Large and publicly traded companies need much larger budgets to effectively run campaigns that involve a mix of corporate communications.
Is there a cultural fit?
Ensuring a cultural fit between your needs and the PR agency is usually more important than cost. Cultural misalignment can botch a PR campaign. When you evaluate the agency’s organizational culture and values, consider compatibility with your company’s culture. Determine if the agency aligns with your brand’s image and messaging.
Assess communication style and responsiveness to determine the alignment with your usual business practices. For example, what is your expected response time when you send an email or leave a voicemail?
Evaluate the choices by conducting thorough due diligence on the agencies. Investigate each agency’s reputation and online presence. Look for past controversies, legal issues or ethical concerns for the agency and key executives. Verify the agency’s errors and omissions (E&O) insurance coverage, credentials, certifications and licenses. Check with industry associations and regulatory bodies for validation of an agency to ensure that it is in good standing.
Are you ready to decide?
Compile a comprehensive assessment of each agency. Weigh the pros and cons of each agency based on your criteria. Select the PR agency that aligns best with your objectives, budget and culture. Clearly define expectations and goals for the PR campaign. Draft a detailed contract that outlines services, deliverables and timelines. Have an attorney review the agreement. Set up communication channels and reporting mechanisms for an ongoing relationship.
The key steps in the PR agency selection process are to assess your needs, identify potential candidates, meet with them, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and then decide. By following these key steps, you may choose a suitable PR agency. Encourage ongoing communication and collaboration with the chosen agency to avoid serious problems and maintain an alignment of interests as you move ahead.