All too often, businesses and organizations make hasty and uninformed decisions when hiring a public relations firm. They are either stupefied by the smoke and mirrors of a flashy pitch presentation, or they hire the cheapest bidder without any consideration for credibility, quality or value.
Aside from the obvious (i.e. billing structure, client references, etc.), consider posing the following questions to your would-be PR agency. The information you gather could ultimately save you valuable time and money.
1. Who will be doing the work and what is the extent of their professional experience?
Many times, top level executives will reel in your business only to turn your account over to their most recent entry-level hire as soon as you sign on the dotted line. That’s not to assume that the new guy (or gal) will provide any better or worse service than the highest-paid exec. But still, you should know what you’re paying for. Ask to meet the person who will be handling the day-to-day activity on your account, and get to know them before agreeing to contract terms to ensure their skills and experience meet your needs.
2. How will you know whether the campaign is successful?
A good public relations agency will help you define your goals and establish measurable objectives so that everyone knows what success should look like in the end. They should be able to explain how their proposed tactics will positively affect your desired end result, be it an increase in product sales, a change in attitude or opinion among target audiences, a marked increase in association membership, a candidate’s election to public office or an organization’s desired change in public policy.
3. Have you had success with similar public relations campaigns?
Ask the agency to provide a couple of case studies outlining previous campaigns with similar goals. You’ll want to note the original objectives of the campaign, the methods used to achieve those objectives, the budget, and of course, the outcome. Was the campaign successful? How do you know? What unforeseen challenges did the firm have to overcome? How were those challenges managed? Were the results timely?
4. What tactics will you employ to help accomplish our goals?
Public relations is not the equivalent of publicity. While earned media is a common tool used to accomplish public relations objectives, it is certainly not the only one. If a PR firm goes on and on about press releases and news hits without any mention of other one- and two-way communication tactics, take heed. And if “getting in the news” is your only goal, the firm should be the first to counsel you otherwise.
5. What challenges do your foresee for our campaign and how might you address them?
Your public relations counselors should be able to anticipate certain challenges with regard to your campaign and explain how they will either work to avert those challenges or confront them should they become unavoidable. The answer to this question will demonstrate their knowledge of the PR industry and the extent of their experience in dealing with similar campaigns.
Above all, your external public relations team should consist of people you respect and regard as trusted advisers. Generally speaking, public relations is an inexact science. However, well-versed PR professionals understand how to implement proven methods to help accomplish your business goals and objectives. You must be willing to hand over the reigns to a certain extent and acknowledge that they know what’s best for your business or organization with regard to communication. If you aren’t comfortable doing so with a particular firm, you should probably look elsewhere.