choosing a PR agency

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING A PR AGENCY

Choosing a PR agency is an important decision. Not only is it a financial investment, but you need to take the time to make sure the public relations agency you appoint is the right fit.

Your chosen pr agency should, of course, have a strong understanding and be experienced within the markets you operate. They should also be able to demonstrate how they fit in with your business, in terms of your culture and your ambitions.

But hiring an agency can, for some, be a daunting task. When presented with a list of agencies all competing for your business, all claiming to either do the same thing or offer tiny variations on a similar theme. It can be difficult to cut through the noise

Here are some of our suggestions when appointing a PR agency.

Experience

Experience will naturally be the first thing you look at when researching agencies. This is one of the most straightforward elements to assess any prospective agency.

They will, more than likely, have a bank of credentials and case studies available via their website. Or if you’re in the pitching process their presentations to you should contain relevant experience and case studies to back up their case.

If their pitches and proposals don’t contain, what you deem to be any relevant experience and case studies for your business. Then it’s safe to say that they are not the best PR agency for you.

Looking beyond sectors and specialisms can help to assess how well-connected the PR agency is within your world. It’s one thing being able to sell your business into the media landscape, but if a PR agency can introduce you to like-minded leaders and align your business next to meaningful connections, that can be a real value-added and create different kinds of opportunities for your business.

Suitability

While ability, performance and experience matter when it comes to appointing a PR agency, it’s also really important to understand more about how a potential PR firm would handle the size of your business.

The trick here is gauging the size of your business and your goals and needs, in parallel to the equivalent size and goals of a prospective agency.

Agency size is an important factor. You may naturally gravitate towards the name and reputation of a larger, perhaps even global agency. But don’t switch yourself off to the fact that a smaller agency could potentially benefit you more than a larger one.

Small businesses within large agencies have a tendency to not work so well. Smaller businesses often end up feeling undervalued and under-serviced in these scenarios. Find an agency which fits your size, but can also scale up with you.

It’s very much about finding the fit that works for you and your business. If you can match the needs of the two, then you will be setting yourself up for the best possible outcomes.

Team Chemistry

Finding the right PR agency for you goes beyond assessing the skills and experience of a PR team. Team chemistry is also a really important part of forging strong, and ultimately successful, client-agency relationships.

The structure is important within an agency setting, you’ll want to know who will be handling your account management on a day-to-day basis, who will be delivering the work and most importantly who will have overall responsibility.

There will, on average, be between three to five individuals directly involved on any given PR account. So it’s important for the client that the chemistry is there.

Credentials

We’ve briefly mentioned credentials above, but we would be remiss if we didn’t go into further detail on these crucial aspects.

If a business is on the lookout for pr services, either appointing a new agency or perhaps appointing a PR agency for the first time ever, a lot of initial information can be found via a PR firm’s website.

Your search should start here, but it shouldn’t end here.

You will want to glean more information and insight about your future PR partner and this is where requesting credentials comes into it.

Usually, this can be done prior to the pitching and appointing process, it’s a fairly commonplace tactic for a business to reach out to prospective agencies, inform them of their potential interest in working with them and request initial creds.

But at this stage what sets apart an average PR firm away from a great PR firm?

If you request a creds document, and you receive that document via email moments later. That is a huge red flag, that the agency you’ve approached takes a scattergun approach to the pitching process. They’ve likely not looked at your business and fired off a ready-made creds document that likely has little relevance to you.

Now you may think a prompt response is good because you’re wanting to appoint a PR agency in a hurry. But, we all know that hurried decisions are rarely the wisest.

A great agency is likely the one that doesn’t reply immediately. A great PR agency is the one that comes back to you in a few days. This is an indicator that they’ve taken their time to prepare bespoke creds and that they are prepared to go the extra mile.

Awards

Everyone likes to win awards, everyone loves to be told how great they are and what great work they are doing. But in the grand pantheon of PR agency awards, some are deemed more reputable and reliable than others.

Here at AMBITIOUS, we pride ourselves on our DRUM Recommends Award. The reason why we place these particular awards in such high esteem is that the categories are not decided by a written entry, adjudged by a random panel of judges.

The DRUM Recommends Awards are allocated by taking feedback from an agency’s actual clients. The way the categories break down is also hugely valuable when it comes to appointing an agency, they rate across key metrics such as client services, value for money, effectiveness, strategic thinking and creativity and innovation.

This gives you important real-world insight into where a prospective PR firm’s strengths and weaknesses lie.

When critiquing PR agencies on their awards, look for wins within these specific areas. Also, look for wins on specific projects of campaigns that are specific to your sector.

Accreditations

Industry accreditations are an excellent gauge of a PR agency’s commitment to professional practices and quality standards. Accreditations with PR industry bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Public Relations(CIPR) and the Institute of Directors are particularly reputable.

References and Testimonials

After your initial contact with your long-listed PR agencies, client testimonials are an excellent sense check for how an agency really operates. Getting this kind of information, straight from the source will provide you with valuable information.

Take the team to research what an agency’s existing and past client base have to say.

The PR firm selection process

The selection and appointment of a PR firm is not what it once was.

There was a time when pitching for PR work was more pageantry than process. Now people, are shying away from this, as it’s costly for all parties. the selection and briefing process is now a more harmonious and results focussed affair.

Businesses now tend to invite a smaller number of specifically chosen agencies to pitch, rather than the revolving door policy of the old.

In some cases, the business in question may be resolute in knowing exactly what agency they want to work with. Choosing instead to go straight to them with a brief.

A strong brief yields a strong response

Any response to a brief is only as strong as the brief itself.

Once you have your shortlisted agencies, if indeed you are initially approaching multiple, then create a brief stating what you need. Then the most important thing you can do is to ensure that your brief is clear and concise.

It should define your goals, give a clear scope of the project and scope of work as well as a clear indication of the budget.

A woolly brief will always yield a disappointing response… and that is not the fault of the PR firms pitching for your business.

To save yourself from frustration and disappointment, make sure that your brief is completely bulletproof and watertight. Leave no stone unturned.

What you may want to do, if you feel you have found the perfect agency for you, is looking to co-create a brief and scope of work in direct conjunction with your chosen PR agency. This can often be a very helpful process, as it brings natural efficiencies with it.

By taking this approach, briefs and responses are not created in silos to one another. Strengths, threats, opportunities and weaknesses can be jointly assessed and strategies and tactics developed with a greater level of oversight and collegiate working.

In summary

Appointing PR agencies is an important moment in time for any business.

Recognising the need for a PR service, be it media relations, reputation management, social media management, content creation services or just strategic expertise and oversight on your internal communications, is the first step on a journey to future success.

But you need to make sure that those first steps aren’t missed steps.

Taking the time to appoint the right agency for you and your needs is critical. If you rush into the process you may find yourself in a situation with public relations agency that doesn’t work for you.

This could be for many reasons; problems with the brief, problems with the actual working partnership, a lack of expertise in key areas, even the wrong media contacts or problems with the team structure.

Whatever the issues, a prematurely appointed agency can lead to service issues, failure to deliver on KPIs and the client having to go right back to the drawing board.

This is obviously a waste of time, money and resource which no one wants. So if you want to achieve success, take the time to find the one agency that works for you.