When considering hiring an external public relations firm, many struggle just to locate the starting point, and even more are unclear about what assets a firm should be able to offer to ensure a proper fit. While every business has different needs, there are several basic elements that you should demand from every firm you consider.
1. You need knowledgeable, seasoned, credentialed team members.
One of the most important elements to consider when hiring public relations counsel is whether you have confidence that the individuals charged with your reputation, branding and overall public profile are knowledgeable, sharp, honest and have experience to back it up. Is the firm “top heavy” (led only by 15-year veterans of the industry) or a blend of seasoned professionals alongside some more youthful team members (many of whom may actually have a stronger grasp of social media)? Depending on what your business needs, you’ll need to ensure that the team you select has the correct makeup to ensure optimal outcomes.
In addition, consider meeting with the specific team assigned to work on your campaign. It’s easy for any firm to wax poetic about its capability, but you can only really assess their skills when interacting directly with your team members.
2. They listen and then talk.
A critical element of any relationship is trust. To establish trust, business owners should feel that they’re being heard and listened to. Until it understands your goals, no PR firm can accurately explain how PR will be of value to you.
Remember that goals can’t just be, “We want to build a brand,” or “We need publicity.” You need measurable goals along the lines of: “We want to increase sales revenue by 25 percent in six months,” or “We’re launching a new product in the retail channel that we’re targeting to the tween demographic.”
Once you’ve established measurable goals, then your PR firm can outline various strategies and tactics to support them. It is at this critical juncture when the PR firm should do the talking and impress you with creative, thoughtful and measurable ideas to support your outlined goals. If a firm you’re considering does more talking than listening, exit stage right – immediately.
3. They need to be able to measure PR success.
PR measurement tools have evolved in recent years, and while each agency measures differently, you’ll need to know how yours manages this step and how often you can expect a report. Inquire about how each firm you’re considering will track PR success – after all, you need to know how you’re spending your money and whether or not public relations is actually supporting your outlined goals. Most industries use some form of measurable tracking to determine progress; PR should be no different.
4. Begin from a point of “yes,” not “no.”
You aren’t always going to agree with your PR team; it’s just not the way life works. However, any firm that begins from a point of unequivocal “no” on any idea ultimately lacks the creativity, interest or ability to support your business. It’s that simple. Supportive public relations teams – even if they disagree – are professional enough to know that within every idea there is a seed of possibility. These firms are able to successfully carve out those seeds and elevate them as the basis of a campaign, taking it to the next level.
Wrangling assets and leveraging the good in every idea is part of what makes public relations teams valuable. Willingness and ability to work as a team in a constructive, enthusiastic and positive manner is paramount.
5. Creativity is key.
No business wants a cookie-cutter PR program. Axia Public Relations has earned awards of distinction due to its creative approach to each client. Why? Because all businesses have different goals, budgets and bandwidths. The strength of a public relations firm comes from its ability to creatively use available budgets to achieve specified goals. Seek out agencies willing to push the boundaries, hire specialized help if necessary and think outside the box to maximize your public relations investment.
6. Your firm needs to be flexible.
A key to strong external agency support is flexibility. Most PR professionals enter the career understanding that it’s a 24/7 job. We of course maintain business hours, but if crisis hits a client, we’re there to amass whatever forces are needed, to counsel, prepare and, in some cases, step up to the microphone on behalf of that client. Bring up a hypothetical situation or two to ascertain how an agency would handle various situations so you can determine whether it’s flexible and able to support your business. You’ll find that its on-the-spot responses are often telling and will likely help you narrow your list much more effectively.
To learn more about how to select the proper PR firm for your business, download of our Maximizing Your Public Relations Investment e-book or, better yet, contact us to arrange a meeting.
Wendy Bulawa Agudelo has more than 15 years of experience in technology, business, consumer and non-profit public relations. In addition to serving on the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress PR Task Force, Wendy enjoys cooking and rooting for her favorite New England sports teams.
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