How to Choose a Public Relations (PR) Agency
PR – especially ‘new PR’ – is becoming increasingly important in an ever-evolving and increasingly competitive marketing world. Nowadays, businesses realise the evolution of traditional marketing, with the advent of digital publications and online media, means they need to recruit specialists who can keep abreast of the latest developments and engagement techniques.
With all forms of media continuing to advance and mutate, a PR agency that knows what it’s doing is essential. Gone are the days of old PR, now agencies need to offer a range of digital and social communication services as well as providing traditional press coverage. This ‘new PR’ is a must have for both burgeoning and fully-fledged businesses.
But, when looking to partner with an agency, how do you go about choosing?
Here at Pic PR, we consider ourselves pretty clued up when it comes to all things PR, so we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of hints and tips to help ensure you choose the right communications agency for your business:
1. Establish your goals
Most businesses are aware that forming a realistic strategy is the first step toward success. Before you hire a PR agency, it is important to clarify exactly what it is you want and need from them. Perhaps your aim is to build awareness for your brand or to create a successful media campaign around a specific product. Either way, it’s imperative to illustrate this in your initial consultation and if you have a set timeframe in mind. This will allow a prospective agency to judge whether or not they think this is feasible and could well determine if this is the right communications agency for you.
Establishing clear aims from the beginning means you can rule out agencies that do not have the expertise or means to further your business goals. Of course, most agencies will no doubt say they have, so it’s a good idea to look at their credentials to see if they’ve really got what it takes.
2. What type of experience do you need?
If you’ve got toothache, you wouldn’t visit the chiropodist. Just because someone works in the medical profession, doesn’t make them an expert in all things medical. Likewise, PR, and indeed communications, is a broad sector with differing specialisms.
Like any service, an important factor in choosing a communications agency is its area of expertise. For example, a simple search will tell you whether the PR agency you’re considering works primarily with B2B or B2C clients. Here at Pic PR, we like to work with companies who care. Therefore, we tend to focus on and be approached by businesses who work in the Hospitality, Care, Education and HR sectors. The years of experience we have accumulated working in these sectors naturally means we are more confident in delivering our best to businesses who also work in them.
However, an equally important factor is whether a PR agency recognises your experience as a company. If an agency displays a comprehensive knowledge of your company history from the get go, it’s highly likely that they will come up with a suitably comprehensive PR campaign for your business. The benefits of doing your homework works both ways.
3. Size isn’t always everything.
Small and large PR agencies both come with their own sets of pros and cons. With the latter, it is likely it’ll have both the experience and contacts needed to deliver a truly excellent service. On the downside, it’s inevitable they will be more expensive. On the other hand, small and boutique agencies benefit from closely-knit teams and local expertise. This is a great option for businesses with slightly tighter budgets.
There’s also the fact that the larger the agency the differing levels of expertise. Just because you might sign up to a big-name industry player, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the experience you’ll receive. If you’re a multinational with a huge PR budget, then you’ll be getting Account Directors galore, but for those working with a smaller budget, it often pays to look at smaller agencies – they’ll deliver a more consistent service, with less risk of being passed off to a junior executive. Of course, that’s not to say that all big agencies are like that, but it’s something worth bearing in mind.
Ultimately, however, the differences between small and large PR agencies shouldn’t boil down to just their magnitude or lack thereof. Regardless of size, every communications agency should have the charisma, creativity and experience needed to deliver.
4. Tailor the pitch to meet your needs in advance
It is important to consider whether the pitch presentation you receive from a PR agency accurately represents the agency you will ultimately end up working with. Check if you will be working with the people attending the meeting in the months to come. If not, request that the people you will be working with are there. This is an excellent way to get a valuable insight into how the PR agency operates as a whole and whether you will indeed be dealing with the suggested senior staff or palmed off with junior execs.
5. Do you like them?
Communication, communication, communication. PR is all about communication, so it follows that you should take the likeability of your potential PR agency into consideration. If you don’t like them, who’s to say you’ll like the messages they’re putting out on your behalf?
A communications agency should act as a natural extension of your own company and should, therefore, reflect and share your own ethos. It’s likely that you’ll speak to your PR team on a daily basis, so the relationship will certainly be smoother if everyone gets along! A PR agency that cares should respond to your calls and emails in a timely fashion, so make sure to take note of details like this in the early stages of your relationship.
6. Are they passionate about what they do?
The mark of any great communications agency is a genuine passion for what it does. Not only should this come across in the way they conduct their pitch, it should also be evident in the team’s interactions with each other. Are they all engaged? An atmosphere of palpable excitement is a key indicator of the creative thinking that characterises PR.
Here at Pic PR, we certainly consider ourselves a creative agency. With a firm focus on ‘new PR’, our campaigns are tailored to the digital and social age. With integrated video and social media teams, we recognise the importance of visual and digital communications for businesses.
When it comes to choosing a PR agency, put yourself in the shoes of your customers – who are they? What do they want? Could your brand do with a more sophisticated social media presence? What would a positive feature article do for your business? Can you see this proposal reaching your target market?
Note the creativity, confidence and charisma of every PR agency. But, most importantly, go with your gut.