The social media realm has made it easier than ever for an organization to directly manage their reputation and image. An entire public relations effort may be conducted from the inside of the organization. However, there is more to reputation than tweeting, posting and blogging – all of which we agree should be done by someone from inside a company, nonprofit or themselves for their own personal brand. But you may find you need help in directing mere attention to a specific kind of visibility that you want and need to compete. It’s not enough to just be seen. That attention must cause action. And, that is where a PR firm can help.
Public relations experts will help prepare you for media work (both social and traditional), conduct messaging, work with you on presentations and pitch the organization (or you), its management and its products and services to the media, conference organizers, and other influencers. Media analysis, market monitoring and finding new channels and opportunities for visibility are also parts of a good PR program.
But, how do you choose the right PR partner? Below are seven action items to set you in the right direction to attract the appropriate PR counsel.
1. Get to know them through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Meet with the firm in person, if possible. Chemistry between the PR people and the person managing them is important. But, also know that making your decision on personalities and attraction alone is not going to guarantee good results. Issue an RFP. It does not have to be lengthy, but it should help you compare apples to apples when getting bids from different firms or consultants. This ensures you also will get a response that covers all the things you want and need to know before making a decision.
2. Identify what they are capable of in the real world (not just what they say on their blog, social media outlets or in a pitch). When choosing your PR agency, request media clips, social media case studies and statistics, speaking engagements booked, events handled and more that were conducted over the last year. No PR campaign is the same. But, you should be able to see the results from another client that had similar PR needs to yours.
It is important to ask the various budgets for producing such results, as well. After all, a company spending $2,000 a month cannot expect the same level of attention and outcomes that $20,000 produces. You want to get a realistic picture of what your money buys.
Additionally, ask how much time in actual tactics will be spent for your investment. Most agencies today know that strategy is an important step, but tactics are where the action is (literally).
3. Find out if you will be a little fish in a big pond. How many clients does this agency or consultant have? How much time will they put toward the investment you are making? And, specifically, who will be managing your account and making things happen for you? You will want to know your place on the totem pole.
4. Answer honestly how much time you have to manage the agency. Lack of internal resources to work with the PR agency is one of the greatest killers of a campaign’s success. Public relations is a partnership. You will need to devote some time to get the agency up to speed on your company, personnel, products and market. You will need to be responsive to documents that need your approval, and be available for media interviews, be engaged in the social space yourself (if growing your online presence is a goal), and get engaged in other activities.
5. Know your objectives up front and share them openly and honestly with the PR team. A good PR firm will craft a customized program to meet specific goals and objectives. In fact, your investment will be determined by what you want to accomplish. Ask how much time the PR group believes it will take to achieve the outcomes. No one can predict media coverage or your YouTube video going viral. But, they should have some sense of how long it will take to gain traction.
Side note: iI is not appropriate to ask a PR firm to develop a communications plan for you in the proposal stage. This kind of work “on spec” is asking too much and that strategic work should be conducted once you hire the firm.
6. Share your budget. The game of not telling someone how much you can afford won’t do you any good. Share at least a ballpark figure so the agency can provide a proposal that is realistic. You don’t want to waste your time just as much as the PR firm or consultancy doesn’t want to, either. If you aren’t a match due to minimum budget requirements by the agency, it is better to learn that up front.
7. Ask how results are tracked and measured. What tools do they use to show and report the outcomes of the PR effort? Do you need graphs and charts on a regular basis? Do you need your PR firm to submit regular reports to boards, executive teams or others? Tell them up front what you need in the way of justifying the PR expense and discover early if they have the ability or inclination to do so.