Lee Groeger - 08/06/2019
Public relations—or PR, as we say “in the biz”—is renowned for being one of those elusive professions that can be challenging to wrap your head around, at least at first. Many understandably have difficulty distinguishing it from complementary services such as advertising and marketing. The confusion stems from PR’s multifaceted nature, which has grown to include even more service areas as the multimedia landscape has evolved. As a decision-maker for a company or brand seeking PR support, it’s crucial to understand the role it plays in the bigger brand picture; otherwise, how can you be expected to evaluate and decide who will provide you with the best service?
Whatever position you are in that has brought you to this step of searching for a PR firm—launching a new product, expanding into a new category, positioning key personnel as thought leaders, or just general growth, for example—it’s worth taking your time to find the right partner. This can be a full-time job, and you’ve already got one of those, so let’s lighten your load with some insider guidance, shall we? Once you are able to answer the following questions, you can create a “criteria roadmap” for selecting your perfect PR partner.
- What kind of support do you need?
Let’s keep this between us, but needing PR doesn’t necessarily mean you need an agency. For some companies—especially those in early stages—one internal person or an in-house team is adequate. Making this decision depends upon a number of factors including, but not limited to, what level of brand visibility you already have, what part(s) of your business you want to support with PR efforts, the type of PR strategy you’re looking to implement, and how robust the program will be.
Unless you have someone experienced on staff, you’ll need to bring in outside support anyway, so go into the agency or employee hiring process considering things like:
Experience – can your PR person/team hit the ground running? What kind of guidance will they need, and who from your team will provide it?
Investment – what is the cost of hiring an agency on retainer (meaning year-round) or based on a project (ad hoc) versus providing employee salaries and benefits to someone with the level of experience/expertise you will get from an agency team?
Timing – do you need PR support immediately? Consider the timeline of the interviewing and onboarding process for a vendor partner vs. new employee(s).
- What is your business objective?
Any good agency will ask you what you want before telling you what you need. If they don’t, run for the hills. Knowing what you want to achieve will help identify where you need to focus efforts. As I touched on earlier, PR firms implement many more services than what was once considered traditional. We’re talking media relations, media training, content marketing—an industry term that includes all kinds of writing, such as blogs, social media, white papers, bylines, press materials and more—social media community management, social/digital advertising, branding, event planning…you can see where I’m going with this.
If you’re not sure what you need at this point, don’t worry! This is a decision you should make with the support of your agency; have a discussion up front to make sure their capabilities align with your objectives, and everyone is on the same page.
- Do you have the time and resources for PR?
Hiring a PR agency is often a huge relief on a company’s time and resources, but it is by no means a “set it and forget it” situation. One thing we always tell new clients is to think of us as an extension of their marketing or brand team, because that truly is our philosophy. If you have the privilege of finding an agency who becomes a long-term partner, like many of our clients (we average out at 13 years), their knowledge of your business and intuition about your style and preferences will come incredibly close to mirroring your own. But no one knows your brand like you do! It is paramount to your success that you make yourself available to educate, ideate with, and respond to your PR team on an ongoing basis. This communication flow is ideal for generating worthwhile ideas and ensuring they’re up to speed on the goings-on of your organization, which allows them to accurately and confidently accomplish the objective you set out to achieve.
- Does the agency specialize in your area?
Do you work in a very technical industry, or one that is strictly regulated by a governing body, such as pharmaceuticals or banking? In these instances, seeking an agency with direct experience may be in your best interest. That’s not to say an agency new to your vertical wouldn’t knock it out of the park—and I can say with first-hand experience that it can absolutely be done—but expect and allow for a learning curve. Outside of this scenario, it’s more important to find a team who you trust, like, and who have impressed you with the work they’ve done for other clients.
- Is a local agency a better fit?
Did I mention knowing your business objective is important? It bears repeating. If your objective is tied to reaching local consumers and/or businesses, it is well worth considering bringing a local PR firm on board. This could be a smaller standalone agency or a satellite office for a larger agency. Either way, working with a team that understands your region’s demographics, economy, culture and other unique factors can yield meaningful perspective and insights. They’re also likely to have good relationships with local media, which is a major asset if media relations is part of your PR program. And if you’re a big face time person (actual face-to-face time, not the Apple app), the benefit of working with someone you can sit across the table from and shake hands with on a regular basis cannot be imitated.
- What does your gut tell you?
PR may not be a science, but chemistry definitely plays an important role. You get a certain feeling when you meet someone, and it’s important to trust that instinct. Does this agency “get” you? In other words, do you feel like they understand your brand, your audience, and what you’re trying to accomplish? Do they make you feel comfortable and secure? You are going to be putting your company’s reputation in the hands of these new people, so feeling good about them, however you measure that feeling, should be taken into consideration.
If you’re in need of guidance, support, or just ready to elevate your brand’s game, see if 3E Public Relations checks off these boxes for you. Start by taking a look at what we’ve done for some of the brands we work with, and feel free to email me to start a conversation any time!