Tips for Choosing the Right PR Firm

A practical, strategic PR firm can significantly support your company’s growth and success. When searching for the right PR partner, it’s not only important to consider basic criteria, such as history and client roster. It’s critical to consider other key factors that directly will impact the execution and success of the program. Here are key questions to ask potential PR partners:

  1. Who are the specific team members who will be assigned to my account? While it’s important to meet with the top executives of the firms, it’s more critical to personally meet the specific team members who will work on the account and handle the day-to-day work. This will enable you to develop a clear understanding of who will handle what tasks. Often, the team of senior PR executives who earn the business are not the same ones who will work on the account on a day-to-day basis. In other words, some PR firms earn the business with their A-teams, but then assign their C-teams to do the work. Always ask to meet exactly who will work on your account and closely evaluate his or her experience and ability to convey your company’s key messages to the media and execute your program. Don’t measure firms according to their brand names but, rather, according to the merits of the specific team members who will work on your account. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s not the “brand name” that’s working for you — it’s the specific people at the agency you choose. For this reason, you should ask the potential PR partners to provide lists of the company employees, their titles, and how long they have been employed by the firm. Find out how many college interns and part-timers work at the firm, and find out if any of them will work on your account as opposed to senior-level team members with the experience you need.
  2. Is my PR account team comprised of senior professionals who have meaningful experience working as former reporters, editors and/or producers with top-tier media companies? Ensure that your PR team has direct newsroom experience. Ask for specifics: did they work as interns or as actual reporters? PR professionals with newsroom media experience have a more in-depth understanding of the newsroom and the news process, which gives them a distinct advantage over other PR professionals when working with the media and pitching stories. Fact is, reporters like information delivered in specific ways and newsrooms have unique dynamics,  and the experience of having worked in a newsroom provides priceless education that cannot be acquired in school.
  3. Does the firm employ professional, experienced writers who are familiar with the Associated Press (AP) writing style? Find out exactly who within the team will be developing your communications, and ask for writing samples. Ask the potential partners to provide a sample news release about your company in order to confirm upfront that the team truly understands your company and how to communicate your messages to the media.
  4. Does the PR firm take an integrated media approach and focus not only on securing traditional media coverage, but also digital media coverage in top blogs, social media channels, search-engine results pages and video aggregation sites? Ensure that the PR firm is experienced and adept in the area of digital communications: social media relations, blogger relations, search-engine optimization and media optimization. In today’s new media landscape, this is a critical component to the success of any program.
  5. Does the PR firm have knowledge and experience that’s critical to my success, including crisis communications and reputation management? This type of knowledge and experience will help ensure that when crises do arise, my PR partner is able to successfully anticipate and handle crises and protect my company’s most precious asset: its reputation.
  6. Do the team members have meaningful business-development and sales experience, and is the firm adept at developing PR programs that support clients’ specific business goals? Look for firms who focus on developing programs that are practical, strategic and without unnecessary fluff. Some firms secure avalanches of publicity but, without a targeted approach, clients are left at the end of the year wondering if the programs really impacted their bottom lines and helped support their goals. The PR firms should deploy the latest technologies to develop effective media lists and then hand-select the media outlets and reporters to target as part of a strategic approach. In short, each and every PR activity should be initiated with the ultimate purpose of supporting a specific business goal.

In the selection process, make sure to do your due diligence and conduct research of the PR firms you are considering to ensure that your chosen PR partner can successfully develop and execute programs that will help achieve your business goals. Here are three key things to request from potential PR partners:

  1. Ask for a minimum of three references – preferably current clients. Take the time to ask questions that are relevant and important to the success of your company.
  2. Ask the PR firms to develop a sample news release based on a specific storyline that your want to communicate. This process will help you confirm whether the PR firm truly understands your business, has good writing skills and can develop effective messaging for your company.
  3. Before signing contracts, ask the PR firm to provide you with a detailed statement of work complete with timelines, deliverables, possible storylines, strategies, tactics, milestones, etc. as part of the written contract.  This will help ensure accountability and maximize results.