Questions to Ask When Hiring a PR Agency

Hiring a PR agency or consultant

Make sure you know who you’re hiring to do your PR

Entrepreneur has featured an article on 10 questions to ask before hiring a PR agency. It’s got some good tips and some left out. Let’s get to it.

The article starts by posing the question, how do you find a PR agency that is likely to benefit your business. There’s a question to ask even before this – should you use a PR firm or consultant? This is a topic previously covered in Tech PR Review. And, it’s a good idea to determine even if an agency is appropriate. You should also beware of certain offerings to determine if they are truly in your best interest – sometimes the money, etc. sound just right but in the end, you may get bitten. So, let’s look at the advice in the article.

Measuring Success
The tips provided for this are good. Today, compared to, say, 10 years ago, there are plenty more ways to measure success thanks to various online metrics. This includes everything from traditional media coverage to social networking and beyond. Laying out in advance how the agency – or consultant – will measure success is critical.

Media Targets
Again, in general, the tips are good. However, any PR agency has access to databases to target the right media. It’s not so much knowing who to target but how they go about doing it. This is as important as knowing who. Also, a lot of companies get caught up with asking “what good media contacts do you have.” Companies still don’t get that it’s not about who you know anymore. PR people don’t meet press for dinner to discuss potential stories like decades ago. Knowing what gets the media’s attention is more important than if you’re on a first-name basis with someone. It doesn’t matter how many beers you may have had with a reporter, if the story isn’t good, they’re not going to cover it.

Related Industry Experience
It’s true that you’ll benefit from hiring an agency – or consultant – with related experience in your industry. However, there are two levels to this and sometimes companies get too caught up in the “micro” of it. On one level, if you’re a tech company selling, say wireless routers, you don’t want to hire an agency with primary experience in the restaurant business. You may also not want to hire an agency that covers multiple sectors – say restaurants, healthcare, finance, and tech, for example. While they may have a tech team, it’s possible that the tech team also works other sectors. So, they may not be as intimate with tech as someone who only does tech. Now, here’s that “micro” part. Sometimes companies get too caught up in wanting very specific experience. Let’s conjure up a scenario. Say your company has developed an accounting app for SMBs. So, you want to find someone that has worked with another company providing an accounting app for SMBS. This isn’t always best. First of all, if they’re working with another such company, it’s a conflict of interest to also work with you – the competition. If they’re no longer working with such a company – even though they have that experience, why not? What went wrong? Maybe nothing did but, it’s still something you should check out. The main point is, don’t get too macro. What’s often more important is that the agency – or consultant – has demonstrated industry success regardless of the “micro” industry – that they’ve got the proof of success across many tech, healthcare or other industries and client types related to you.

The Team
The tip here is often true. Senior management pitches you for the business but, because their rates are so high, they’d eat your budget up twice as quickly as a junior person if they worked for you. Also, working on accounts detracts them from a primary purpose – securing more new business. You must layout who will actually work on the team each day and what their tasks will be. Furthermore, ask how long the people have been there and what other workload they have.

Contracts
The tip here seems to be that you may want to ensure you can get out after 90 days if it’s not working out. You can probably do even better than this. Basically, just remember the terms of how long a contract is for are always negotiable.

Costs for Services
This tip is a bit dicey. Many PR agencies – and consultants – will shy away from performance-based models. Remember that this isn’t advertising where you can pay to be on a page where you want. It requires influencing reporters to cover you. And, this also requires your own true product innovation that is a compelling story – and that the product is innovated on a regular basis if you want regular coverage. So, performance-based models are a two way street. You, the company, need to perform with your products too. If you’re not innovating and selling well, it’s difficult to convince media to cover you. Thus, performance-based models are not good for measuring short-term success. They also focus things more in negotiating each “performance” rather than focusing on real work. That being said, if a PR agency – or consultant – takes you on as a client they should have done so because they believed in you. That means there should be some successes. In addition to this, beware of surprise costs. Ask if the budget can be increased without your prior approval? Ask that any expense or cost beyond the budget require your pre-approval. Don’t get caught having to pay a bill for your regular budget that then adds “additional fees.”

Media Coaching
Um, yes. Your PR agency – or consultant – should know how to do this. Just don’t let them turn it into a spectacle that tries to sell you on it as an extra service.

Social Media
Um, yes. Your agency – or consultant – should know about the social webs too.

Communication
This tip should be a given. Your PR agency – or consultant – should be available to you as needed, 24/7. But, don’t get ridiculous about it. For example, calling your PR rep at 1 am while they’re on vacation because you want to discuss a press release that is two months away – that can probably wait. Fortunately, I’ve not had that experience, yet ;-)

Workload
This is true. If you hire a PR agency – or consultant – don’t expect that your workload will go down (unless you were previously doing full time PR on your own). Your involvement is critical to success, not just in achieving goals but in developing an intimacy between your company, its products and your PR rep. Investing the time early on to develop this intimacy is a good idea. Do ask your PR rep what they expect from you so it’s all clear.

In addition to these tips, you should also consider the below. Some are no-brainers but, it’s probably best to list them.

  • Ask for a couple of references
  • Ask them to describe the typical process to develop a press release, other materials
  • Ask how often in the last five years their rates have gone up or down
  • Ask the hourly rate for each team member
  • Ask for specific breakdowns in the hourly work per team member
  • Ask if they bill in quarter-hour segments and to specifically define what this means
  • Ask for specifics on how you can terminate the contract