What should you consider before hiring a PR agency?
Public relations (PR) is one of those industries that few can explain in a single sentence, and even fewer know how they should apply it their brand. Well, there’s good reason for that. PR, as a profession, is a vague umbrella that covers a vast range of disciplines. It’s quite literally the maintenance of your brand’s relationship with the public. Think of it in this way: consider how complex a single personal relationship is, now multiply that by your brand’s audience size. Next, consider all of the functions that would contribute to the maintenance of said relationship.
Luckily, trained professionals at (most) PR agencies are skilled enough to recognize commonalities among your audience, and find the approaches that represent your brand in the best light possible. Most brands know how important public relations is, but deciding where your PR representation comes from can be the challenge.
Plenty of successful companies today are looking beyond in-house MarComms (marketing & communications) teams, and outsourcing to PR firms. If you find yourself in a similar position, keep the following in mind.
What are your goals?
Many companies feel pressured to hire an agency but don’t know exactly why they might want one. They just know that other popular brands are doing it…so they should be too. Before you fall victim to peer pressure (or should I say PR pressure?) you should have a few ideas of your own. PR is very tactical and should be approached as such. Do you want to a hire a PR agency for reputation management? Lead generation? A fundraising campaign? Grow a brand? Ongoing message maintenance?
While a variety of PR agencies will be happy to take your money, it’s much more valuable on both ends when the client has a bigger picture in mind. With a clear endpoint, the agency can then develop strategies that can effectively contribute to your company’s bottom line.
What is your budget?
Your budget is a considerable contributor to the quantity and quality of PR you can line up for your brand. Obviously, not all agencies charge the same rate, offer the same services or produce the same level of commitment and work. Regardless, with a realistic budget in mind, you can shop the market and discover what agency serves the best fit for your brand’s needs are.
Keep in mind that agencies in this industry come in all shapes and sizes. From the solopreneur who only takes on two or three clients at a time, to the multi-billion dollar blue chip firms, one commonality across the PR industry is that they all seem to carry an aura of mystery...especially with price! There are very few agencies that are completely transparent with how much you can expect to pay until it comes down to an official proposal or contract. So how much can you expect to pay? I hate to contribute to the mystery, but it really depends…
Larger agencies dealing with corporate clients can easily expect to charge a client $15,000 or more per month. Smaller, boutique agencies might have retainers as low as $1500 per month. Again, there are a number of contributing factors. Details like how much time needs to be dedicated to a project, and the type of project can drastically shift estimates.
- Agencies want your business. Don’t be afraid to negotiate!
- Many agencies won’t do retainer contracts shorter than three months. This is because PR can take a bit of time to show lasting results. So, keep this in mind when budgeting for some work.
Big agency doesn’t necessarily mean big value
Like I mentioned under the previous point, PR agencies come in all shapes and sizes. Often times, brands feel the need to run to the premier, “Walmarts” of the industry. Bigger means better, right? Not always true.
You want to find an agency that fits where your brand is now, and can help take it where you want it to be. For example, if you’re a small startup operation with a team of 7-10 people, you’ll want an agency that reflects that type of mindset. A firm that only works with big corporations probably won’t give you the most value for your money. A freelance PR professional or smaller firm would probably suit your needs better.
Many brands prefer going to the smaller, boutique PR agencies. Not only do they generally charge a fraction of the cost, but you’re more likely to be working directly with upper management. With a limited availability for clientele, you can almost guarantee to have a strong working relationship with the project lead. The work they do for your brand isn’t solely for your reputation, but their personal and small agency’s reputation. With marquee firms, it’s not uncommon to have projects passed down to more junior-level employees, and find yourself small spoke in their corporate wheel.
Always ask questions
Hiring someone is a business relationship based on assumed trust. Obviously, you want your investment to pay off. Make sure you know exactly how the agency plans to achieve and measure your success.
Ask questions like:
- What does the PR agency value?
- How do they measure success?
- What type of experience do they have
- Do they have examples of previous work and testimonials?
- How much communication between client and agency is included?
- Who will be taking the lead on the project?
- How available will this person be?
- What skills does the project lead bring to the table?
Don’t forget - this is your money, brand and reputation on the table. No respectable PR agency will be offended by you wanting to know logistics.
Chemistry is everything
There are plenty of agencies out there, and your goal should be the find the one that best compliments your brand. Chemistry is everything. Not only is it the agency that you have to mesh with, but the project leader as well. Ask yourself: “Is this person the type of person I want to be around?”
You’re going to spend a lot of time with this person as they work to learn more and more about your brand, your goals and opportunities. Keep this in mind during the negotiation phone calls and meetings. Picking up the phone to call your agent shouldn’t be a dreadful experience.
Don’t wait until it’s too late
There are a lot of things in business that can wait - PR, should never be one of them. I’m not just talking about crisis communications either. PR is the part of your marketing mix that should start from day one. It acts as a crucial foundation for building brand awareness, loyal customers and reputation management. From there you can expand and implement other marketing disciplines.
Maybe outsourcing to a PR agency isn’t the best fit for your organization right now. However, I highly advise that you have some with a communications background on your team at all times. Public relations is a practice that pays off in the long run.
What can we do for you?
I could sit here and talk up Magnified PR for days...but don’t take my word for it. Take a look at some of the work we have done!