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How to appoint the right PR agency

In the second instalment of a series of 'How To' pieces that aim to help provide insights on how marketers can source and hire appropriate agencies correctly, intermediary The Drum Recommends takes a look at what should be considered while seeking the right PR agency.

 

It is often quoted that Bill Gates said: “If I was down to my last dollar, I'd spend it on public relations.”

 

Whilst, no one actually knows where or when he said this – it is suspected that it was a clever move on the part of a creative PR agency – it is widely acknowledged (beyond the confines of Microsoft HQ) that public relations is a critical business tool.

 

Effective PR is built on good relationships, with creative communications and successful engagement the building bricks that create the platform upon which a business or personal profile is raised and held high.

 

A good PR agency should nurture relationships with key influencers and understand what makes them tick. It should have a network of contacts, including freelance journalists, website and magazine editors, bloggers, industry key opinion leaders and other influencers, upon whom it depends to distribute PR – paid or organic.

 

As well as a media list with key contacts, a PR agency should utilise newswire distribution services and, if a large agency, have its own online media room. To enhance brand awareness, services a PR agency might offer include:

  • Content creation – Writing product PR, generic articles and advertorials tailored to traditional media as well as online
  • Events organising
  • Competition promotion
  • Survey management
  • Product launches.

 

What’s your ‘hook’?

To find a PR agency that is the right fit, you first need to establish your goals. Is it to raise awareness of your brand, a specific service or a product? Is it to gain credibility as a business or recognition as a thought leader in your market? Is it about product or people or both?

 

PR is not concerned with shouting about your brand – leave that to your advertising campaigns. PR needs a ‘hook’ as few media outlets will publish a dull-as-dishwater self-promoting press release if it is missing that bait. After all, they all have audiences to please.

 

The best PR is more news than sales. PR should elicit interest whilst adding value to the reader’s experience and leave them wanting to learn more.

 

If you opt for a larger PR agency, will you be assigned an account manager? What will their responsibilities be? How much hand-holding do they offer?

 

Consider your budget, too, and your reach. Who is your target audience? And what key target media will you use to reach them? What impact are you hoping to make and what’s your story?

 

Much like finding the perfect partner, in an ideal world there are no good or bad PR agencies – only suitable and unsuitable ones.

 

Selecting a PR agency is a personal experience and you need to have all your ducks in a row before you choose who will fire off those press releases.

 

Holding hands, making plans

We doubt you have the time nor the energy to ‘kiss many frogs’ so do ask key questions to carefully match the right one with your brand. Does it have established relationships with the key publications where you want to appear – either B2B or consumer media?

 

Is the agency innovative? Are you expected to come up with ideas to promote your brand – or do they have regular brainstorming meetings with you? Do you want them to shatter preconceptions about your business or are you looking to effect brand growth nationally, or even globally?

 

Does the PR agency think like journalists? Can they create copy that is newsworthy as well as relevant? Once you have your own ideas thrashed out and drafted, you will need to find a PR agency most likely to be able to distribute the ‘good’ news to your target demographic.

 

Are they reactive as well as proactive – i.e. do they adapt campaigns to react to your audience and have they a flair for rapid response to relevant breaking news?

 

A quick turnaround of copy is vital if a PR agency is to positively exploit those opportunities gifted to us when news breaks, and you can piggyback on a story that will catapult your brand into the stratosphere, all thanks to some lucky timing.

 

And finally, has the team requested a copy of your business plan? This should be intrinsically linked to their own media plan created specifically for you.

 

Money talks

Have they asked about your budget? If this is their first question, be wary. Budgets are flexible and even the most modest of pockets can establish some kind of working PR relationship, albeit less frequent and less extensive. How big is the agency – and do they contract out work? Who is involved in the initial meeting or pitch? The ‘face’ of a PR agency may not necessarily be the worker bee. Either way, be sure to enquire about the experience of the team members who are at the coal-face and handling your account. Can they share with you any effective campaigns they’ve masterminded on behalf of other clients?

 

Size and measurements

Does size matter? Well, arguably, the smaller and more niche the PR agency, the more focused the care and attention. But don’t be overwhelmed by employing a bigger agency if it ticks boxes. Either way, neither a swish London office nor a kitsch garden shed set-up should sway the decision-making.

 

Effective agencies get results by working hard and communicating well – after understanding your business. In fact, successful PR agencies can often find themselves handling numerous brands all within the same or similar market – so don’t be afraid to shy away from one that specialises in the business of raising the profiles of other brands in your sector. Conversely, don’t be ruled by this either. A good PR agency is all embracing and should be able to get a handle on your brand and its market, whatever the business.

 

And how often will your agency review on-going activity? PR is a long-term strategy but, with canny placement and continued networking, an agency should achieve your goals swiftly. How do they measure the effectiveness of their work? Do they track customer action by measuring web traffic, downloads, enquiries, sales and so on? Do they review the activity of your competitors as well as yours? PR is a slow burner but you need to know what works as well as what doesn’t. In essence, ask how often they regroup, reassess, redraw and redeliver your media plan – if necessary.

 

Ask them about their marketing analysis approach but don’t let this be a deal breaker. Public relations remains more of an art that a science.

 

“Any idea can be a great idea if you think differently, dream big and commit to seeing it realised.”

Richard Branson, founder, Virgin Group

 

Extras

In a digital world, the rules of PR change rapidly and it is important the agency you choose has its finger on the pulse of current trends.

 

Part of your media plan may be to achieve award-winning status and the best way to do this is by entering awards (funnily enough).

 

A PR agency can help earn you these bragging rights. Award entries are a major way of raising a profile and, if you are looking to enter your brand for an award, then ask the agency if it can ‘toot your horn’ for you.

 

After all, a PR agency should be well versed in the art of pushing the positives, so it is perfectly placed to pen you a decent awards entry.

 

Additionally, does the PR agency ensure your PR is well supported by and integrated with a strong and active presence on the social media platforms that reap the most effective results? If they don’t do this themselves, do they work with agencies that can?

 

And finally, eye-catching images are increasingly as important as words that capture imaginations. Whilst you may be happy with the copy they write, do they have an in-house designer or work with a creative agency to create tables, infographics, graphs and so on?

 

Journalists will often request images to support press releases. Can the PR agency organise photographs of your branding, your services and/or products and team members? In a digital world where Instagram now boasts more than 500 million daily users, your chosen PR agency should understand the importance of imagery.

 

"It always surprises me that many companies, having spent considerable time and resource having a press release drafted, cleared internally and dispatched to their selection of media targets, then manage to totally overlook the major role that photography continues to play in the world of print and online media."

Michael Feeley, The Drum Network's consultant journalist

 

The parameters of PR are as broad as the imagination (budgets permitting!) so find a PR agency that:

  • Listens to your needs
  • Understands your business and its market
  • Can create enticing copy to draw interest from media outlets
  • Innovate to pique interest among your target demographic.

 

One suspects Bill Gates no longer has a need to encourage the media to get to know and grow his brand but the reality is that PR is here to stay. Despite the move into a more target-driven world of digital marketing – where spend is often syphoned off into activities that yield a high ROI for your business – content remains king.

 

If you're on the hunt for a PR agency, you can start your search here