How To Know It Is Time For Public Relations

I often hear from colleagues that they believe public relations (though they don’t always call it that) is as important as managing a business’ finances. Yet, when it comes time to actually launch a formal communications effort, suddenly PR is a “nice to have, but not necessary” activity. I have been a professional communicator for more than 25 years. To save you lost time, if you have any of the symptoms below you need to run, not walk, to the nearest PR firm. You are missing or losing business every day.

  • You can’t remember or seem to focus your message. Or worse, it changes every few weeks.
  • You see or read about your competition more often than you read or see your own company’s news.
  • You repeatedly hear surprise from potential customers that you exist or that you offer what you offer.
  • You hear things out of your employees mouths on the phone, in trade show booths, in the media, and in sales calls that make you wonder who they work for (because it can’t be your company).
  • Your Web site hasn’t gone uder a message and content refresh in more than 5 years.
  • People are talking about you, publicly, and you feel it isn’t too bad so why get into it?
  • You think social media is for the birds and just a fad.
  • You have no communications staff, haven’t hired any communications help, and trust that everyone is just “doing their best at telling our story” and that “good enough is enough.”

But, this wouldn’t apply to you, would it?

More On Finding The Right PR Firm

On Friday I blogged about things to think about when hiring a PR firm. Developing a score card for each PR agency or counselor that you evaluate can be a helpful tool in making a final decision. Four big areas to “vet” include:

  1. Communication skills
  2. PR staff characteristics
  3. PR services offered
  4. Overall character

To get more granular, under “communication skills” consider these questions:

  • How well do they know your industry? Did they do their homework before meetings and their pitch?
  • Do they appear to engage in strategic thinking that adds value? Do their tactics stem from objectives and strategy?
  • Is their timeframe clear? Is the program budget reasonable?
  • Do their ideas appear innovative yet personal to your organization, and clearly outlined? Are their ideas realistic and makes sense?
  • Is the program measurable?

Under “PR Staff Characteristics” consider these questions:

  • Does your team and the PR team assigned have good chemistry and a good mix of personalities?
  • Have you met the people – before hiring the firm – who will be conducting the campaign?
  • Does everyone you’ve met at the firm appear to be professional, qualified and competent?
  • Is the account team accessible and responsive? How quickly do they answer your communications?
  • Does the staff have experience in your industry or markets?
  • Are they enthusiastic about the strategies and tactics offered?
  • Do they have demonstrated “street smarts” and common sense?
  • Do they have client references?
  • Do they have a written approach to financial and administrative account management?
  • Do they understand time and budget management?

Under “PR Services Offered” consider these questions:

  • Do they have examples of proven outcomes for clients?
  • Do they have proof of competency for the type of strategies you hope they deploy for you (examples would be social media, writing, research, media relations, speaking engagements, trade shows, events and more)
  • Does everyone on the team appear to have a baseline of knowledge and competency in the PR field? (examples include social media savvy, writing skills and more)
  • Do they have any specialties, such as crisis communications or messaging and storytelling work that is important to you?
  • Are their people published, have blogs, strong online presences and other personal branding strategies that keep them connected and constantly learning?
  • Does the firm appear to have invested in their people’s ongoing education and evolution?
  • Do they invest in the tools necessary to do their jobs, including analysis, tracking, issuing of news, and other administrative functions necessary to execute and evaluate the program?

Under “Overall Character” consider these questions:

  • Does the firm share its mission and values?
  • Can the firm service multiple accounts seamlessly and efficiently?
  • Is the firm known in its field? Been published or has engaged in thought leadership activities in its industry?
  • Have client conflicts been discussed and resolved?
  • Has the size, stability and make-up of the firm been shared?