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What to ask before hiring a PR agency with Jason Mudd | On Top of PR podcast

By On Top of PR

On Top of PR podcast: What to ask before hiring a PR agency with show host Jason Mudd episode graphic with Jason’s headshotLearn the four questions you should ask before hiring a PR agency with our host, Jason Mudd.








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Five things you’ll learn from this episode:

  1. The role of trust in a relationship with a PR agency
  2. The importance of enjoying who you work with
  3. How to verify that an agency can do what needs to be done
  4. Why you should pay attention to what an agency talks about on their website
  5. How to determine where you fit in on a list of clients


  • You have to wonder, is this company in a position to grow with us or grow into us, or are we better off finding a company that already has that type of experience and can demonstrate it in their portfolio and case study?” — @jasonmudd9
  • “Life is too short to work with people and companies and organizations that you're not excited about doing business with.” — @jasonmudd9
  • “If you're not finding them talking about it actively, then they're probably not practicing it actively.” — @jasonmudd9
  • “You wanna make sure you're not gonna be their biggest client, and you wanna make sure you're not gonna be their smallest client.” — @jasonmudd9

If you enjoyed this episode, would you please share it with others and leave us a review.


About Jason Mudd:

Jason Mudd, APR, is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia in July 2002.


Clients love Jason’s passion, innovation, candor, commitment, and award-winning team. In an increasingly tech-forward world, Jason’s grasp of technological demands on companies provides his clients in multiple sectors a unique advantage toward reaching their top audiences. After teaching himself HTML in 1994, Jason helped pioneer internet marketing strategies as an early adopter of e-commerce, SEO, and social media, inspiring tech giants like Yahoo.


At Axia Public Relations, Jason attracts, develops, retains, innovates, and leads top PR talent and clients. He oversees strategic communications for the firm’s national clients and provides high-level consultations to client leadership teams at billion-dollar global brands, both business-to-business and business-to-consumer, including spokesperson training, crisis communications management, analytics, social media, online reputation management, and more. He also speaks frequently to corporations and industry groups and writes about public relations trends and best practices for American City Business Journals and other national businesses.


Guest’s contact info and resources:

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  • We are thrilled to have Burrelles sponsor our solocast episodes. Thanks to Burrelles for its support. Burrelles has a special offer exclusively for On Top of PR fans. Check it out at burrelles.com/ontopofpr
  • On Top of PR is produced by Axia Public Relations, named as one of America’s Best PR Agencies by Forbes. Axia is an expert PR firm for national brands.
  • On Top of PR is sponsored by ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving, and promoting online customer reviews.

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With a source list that grows every day, Burrelles ensures you receive precisely the news clippings that meet your needs and your budget.


Jason Mudd's image

About your host Jason Mudd

On Top of PR host, Jason Mudd, is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands and fastest-growing companies. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002. Forbes named Axia as one of America’s Best PR Agencies.


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- [Announcer] Welcome to On Top of PR with Jason Mudd. This solocast episode is brought to you by media monitoring company, Burrelles. Learn more at burrelles.com/ontopofpr. And now, here's Jason Mudd.


- Hello, and welcome to On Top of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd from Axia Public Relations, and today we're doing a solocast. A solocast is a little bit different, instead of having a guest on the show sharing their smarts, I'm taking a minute to share some topics, tips, or trends with you, our audience, about public relations. And today I'm here to talk about four things you should ask before hiring a PR agency. And I wanna walk you through those four and see if this might help you in your search for hiring a PR agency to make sure that you're getting the best agency for your dollar and the best agency for you and your organization. And so the four items I'm gonna talk to you about is do I like them? So you wanna start figuring out do I like these people? Are these people I wanna be working with? Are these people that I'm gonna enjoy working with? 'Cause you don't wanna hire somebody that you just can't stand or you don't like or you don't enjoy working with, and I think that's really important. Life is too short to work with people and companies and organizations that you're not excited about doing business with, and that doesn't get you personally motivated and inspired by. So I think that's the first thing you should ask yourself, is do I like them?


The second thing you should really be asking yourself is do I trust them? Because public relations is so important, you wanna make sure that you trust them. Third thing you should ask yourself is can they do it? Have they done it for others? Can they prove that they've done it? And I'll get into more detail about that in a second. And the last thing you wanna ask yourself is, can they do it for us? So do I like them? Do I trust them? Have they done it for others? And can they do it for us? So let's do a quick, deeper dive into each of these questions. So the first one is, do I like them? And so that's a very reasonable question. I kind of went into some details on that before, but who wants to work with people that you don't like? I personally don't, and so that's one of the tests that we do when we're talking to a potential client, is we're really vetting them just as they're vetting us and we're trying to make sure we like these people and that they're individuals and collectively a group of people that we wanna be doing business with, and that we're gonna be proud to be working with. And it's a name or a company that we stand behind, we believe in their products, their services, their culture, their reputation, their leadership, and just what they're doing to make the world a better place and the impact they're having on communities and economy and the world in general. And then the second question is, do we trust them? Right? And so do we trust them and their leadership team to make sure they're doing the right thing? Do you, as the buyer of the agency services, do you trust them as well? Because ultimately these individuals are gonna be representing you to the news media and to the public, they're gonna be interviewing ideally and recommended, you know, your CEO and members of your leadership team, they're gonna be ambassadors with you and your organization to the public, and as I mentioned earlier to the media and with other external audiences, sometimes they may be attending conferences on your behalf, attending media interviews on your behalf, orchestrating and scheduling media interviews, working with ambassadors, if you have a social media influencer program or you're building one, they could also be traveling with you, whether that's, you know, flying together or in cars together, or maybe even going with leadership on the company jet somewhere, they might even be attending company conferences and industry conferences with you, so you have to think about that as well.


And then thirdly, have they done it for others? And this is an area that I find is very interesting because PR is typically, you know, a little bit confusing. Not everyone understands what PR is. I have a lot of companies say to me, you know, "I'm not sure what PR is, but I know we need it. Could you help me understand what PR is and isn't?" And when there's some ambiguity or uncertainty about what PR is, then it's very easy for companies to perceive that, okay, this is a PR agency, surely they've done this type of work before for a similar type of company of our size or our culture or in our industry or with our products and services. And so, so often that's just not the case. They just haven't done it for others, and they haven't volunteered that to you and you haven't asked that specifically. So what I want you to do is when you're at this stage and you're talking to a PR agency and you already know you like them and you trust them, you need to start asking, have they done it for others? And the way I would look for that is proof, right? You want to trust, but verify. And so the way to get proof is to have them show you case studies, show you work samples, whether that's deliverables and writing samples that they've done, have them show you case studies that outline both the quality of the work and the quantity of the outcomes and results that their client experienced and they were able to acquire or earn on behalf of that client, and look carefully at those results. Are those the same type of results that you're looking for? Is the baseline of where they started with that company, where your company is today? Or is the results kind of, you know, low-lying fruit and not as sophisticated as the type of results that you're looking for? Or are the writing samples and the work product and the portfolio pieces from that case study, not of the same quality that you're looking for? So maybe you are an insurance company or an Insuretech company, and the agency you're talking to has worked with other insurance or Insuretech companies, but when you look at their portfolio of what they did for them, it was more local type PR and you're looking for more national or even global PR, and so therefore you have to wonder, is this company in a position to grow with us or grow into us, or are we better off finding a company that already has that type of experience and can demonstrate it in their portfolio and case study. An example, in addition, you wanna make sure they're talking about this type of work on their website, whether it's their blog or their portfolio, but in some way, you're able to search their site either using Google and searching their domain only, or you're able to scroll through the navigation on their website, and find where they're talking about this type of work, whether it's through their blog or their case study, or it's listed on their services page for example. I've seen a lot of companies tell me, "Well, we're thinking about hiring such and such, you know, agency to do our work." And I go, "Oh, I really thought they were an ad agency. Are you sure they also do PR?" And they're like, "Oh yeah, they said they do." And I say, "Well, if you go to their website, I don't see where they offer or talk about PR. And if they do, do they have case studies, do they have work samples? Do they have real life, you know, blog topics and podcasts and eBooks and other content and resources and webinars that are about PR or are they all about other topics?"


And so I think you need to be very weary of that. If you're not finding them talking about it actively, then they're probably not practicing it actively, would be one of my first thoughts or instincts. So they're not talking about on the website, they don't have proof of deliverables and work samples and or case studies to show you, then I'd start growing a little bit concern there. Then I would also wanna check references, and I just wanna verify that they're active in this practice area that they claim to be. And the last question you need to ask yourself is, can they do it for us? And every company is unique, but certainly there are similarities between companies where if you don't see them demonstrating similar work for you, or maybe literally their hands are gonna be tied in some ways that'll make it more difficult or more challenging for them to deliver the type of value or outcomes you're looking for, now would be a good time to start raising those objectives. So we've worked with a global company before whose CEO refused to do news interviews, and that kind of hand-tied us a little bit, kind of put our hands behind our back a little bit and challenged us to do our best work, but we were able to work around it and accommodate that preference and, you know, still rise above and be very successful with them. We would have been more successful had their CEO been more open to doing news interviews, but he just personally didn't wanna be in the spotlight and wanted others on his leadership team to take that role. And that worked out great ultimately, but there were definitely some times and some situations where that hurt us. There might be other situations where your CEO says, you know, "I'm only gonna do interviews with the top news outlets in the country. The rest of them, someone else will have to do." And sometimes candidly, that CEO or that company isn't newsworthy enough or impactful enough or prominent enough to be in those top news outlets. So every company would love to be in the Wall Street Journal, but if you look at the Wall Street Journal, most of the news they cover are about billion-dollar brands and billion-dollar M and A activity, and often about public companies and not as much about private companies. Now, there are exceptions, we've had many of our medium-sized clients featured in the Wall Street Journal or quoted in the Wall Street Journal, and sometimes those are billion-dollar brands, and sometimes they're not, it really just depends on the topic and if you've got a good pitch for them or not. But PR is not always just about, you know, earned media coverage and news coverage, it's also about, you know, great content development and social media engagement. And so look at their work samples to make sure that they've been able to prove to you and the rest of the people on your search committee or onto your leadership team, that they have demonstrated proof that they can do the work. I think those four questions that you can ask yourself will get you a lot further into finding the best agency partnership and aligning with them.


A couple of bonus tips I'll share, is you also wanna make sure you're not gonna be their biggest client and you wanna make sure you're not gonna be their smallest client. And so, you know, some of the ways to do that is to kind of ask them about, what does your typical client spend with you? How many clients are you working with in our industry or of our size, or have you worked with in your history, in our industry and of our size? Both size in revenue, size of employees, size in geographic marketplaces. We've had one client that had 350 branch offices across North America, and we've had others that have had just, you know, five, you know, locations across America. But either one, you know, those were unique needs and unique circumstances. Maybe your company is just in one geographic market or one industry vertical, so ask them about experience, connections and contacts in that vertical, ask for portfolio samples and writing samples, earned media and social media and web content samples that are specific to that industry. That would be very helpful. But going back to the question of, you wanna figure out kind of what is their average client, you know, investing in their company services? What's a big client for them? What's a small client for them? Ideally, you never want your company to be more than, you know, 30% of their agency's income, and you certainly don't wanna be, you know, less than 10% of their agency's income and certainly not less than 5% of their income. And also, you know, how's that agency structured? Do they have hundreds of clients? Do they have thousands of clients? Do they have dozens of clients? Do they have just a dozen or less clients? And what kind of agency do you wanna be part of? Do you wanna be part of a huge global agency, or do you wanna be part of a smaller, more boutique agency where you know you're one of five or 10 or 12 clients or one of 20 clients, what size feels about right to you? What's too big? What's too little? And what is just right? Once I worked, consulted with a statewide law firm, and one of their clients, or one, sorry, their PR agency that they were working with was a global PR firm. And they felt like they were, you know, how do you say neglected as a client and I said to them, "Well, no wonder you feel neglected. You're a statewide organization, they're a global organization, so you're always gonna be a small client to them. Their clients are typically global companies and you're limited to just one geographic state and a few major metropolitan cities located in that large state, and so therefore you shouldn't be surprised if it's not a right fit."


And so I would ask yourself those types of questions as you start looking for a PR agency, and I think you would be well on your way to finding the right fit if you follow these guides, these guidelines and these questions that you should ask. I hope our time together was helpful. If you've benefited from this episode, would you please take a moment to share it with a colleague? And in the show notes, we're gonna put a link to a couple of things that you should be thinking about also. One is an ebook, two eBooks we've written, one is called "How To Fire Your PR Agency," the other one is "How To Hire A PR Agency." In addition, we're gonna provide a link to a cost calculator that helps you compare the costs of staffing a PR department with PR staff and PR employees in-house, as opposed to outsourcing it to a PR agency. People tell me this calculator is very helpful. It's something we created a couple of years ago. We just recently improved it, so if you haven't checked it out recently, please do so. In addition, I happen to know other businesses, business owners, CEOs, CFOs, CPAs, business coaches, HR pros, and even legal pros, who point their clients to this calculator we built to really help them understand what it truly costs to employ even just one person, much less an entire department. I hope you'll check that out. All those resources are gonna be available generally speaking at axiapr.com/resources. But in the episode notes, we'll provide you with direct links to those resources for your convenience as well. This has been Jason Mudd with Axia Public Relations, signing off from this solocast. Again, if you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a colleague. If there's a topic you'd like to hear me personally address for you and your company, let me know that too. I'd be honored to hear from you and glad to address it. Otherwise, thank you for letting us help you stay On Top of PR.


- [Announcer] This has been On Top of PR with Jason Mudd. Many thanks to our solocast sponsor, Burrelles, for making this episode possible. Burrelles has a special offer just for On Top of PR fans. Check it out at burrelles.com/OnTopOfPR.

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