Choosing A Public Relations Firm

(DGIwire)  — Most businesses, products and people benefit immensely from positively-framed, quality media exposure. A touch of “fame” or respectful recognition whether within the editorial pages of magazines and newspapers or a variety of news show segments can catapult a company into the minds of their desired partners and customers.  More so, strategic media coverage can position management as the thought-leaders within their respective industry and as the “go-to-source” for information, making them even more in-demand as other media outlets seek their expert commentary. Assuming your company, service or self would benefit from broader awareness via media placements, it might be time to consider partnering with a public relations firm.

There are several factors to consider when hiring a public relations firm as “public relations” is a very broad term.  There are many services offered under the “PR” umbrella including writing new releases, strategizing on message points, creating and designing corporate materials, news story placement, crisis planning and management, ghost-writing and creation of thought leader stories as well expertise and know-how in the new world of social media including blogging, website content, virtual sharing communities, placement of articles on-line and all media for social interaction (ie.: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more.)

It is wise to spell out the specific results you are seeking from a public relations firm.  Do you want to build a brand?  Are your messages targeted at businesses, partners, employees, investors, consumers, regulatory bodies or other groups?  Has management or your business plan changed and does this need to be articulated and “sold”?  Are you disrupting a market?  Is there a David and Goliath challenge facing your company?  Has a crisis arisen that needs a team of advocates?  Does your reputation need to be managed?  Are you just seeking to be more widely known and better perceived?  Do you need to simplify complex science or technology for broader understanding?  Do you need to manage on-line discussion about your company?  Do you need opinions polled?  Are you facing citizenship or CSR issues? Taking the time to think about the answers to these questions will better equip you to find and interview the right communications firm.

Public relations firms are likely to specialize in certain core offerings.  The size and needs of your company will determine whether there is one firm that suits all your needs or if more than one firm is necessary.  For example, some firms may be greatly skilled at day-to-day public relations, but might recommend (or it just might be wise on your part) to consult with a crisis experienced firm, should such a need arise.

Firms that specialize in news placements should be able to produce plenty of quality placement clippings as reference to support their claims.  Keep in mind—a firm boasting clips for a large-cap company or a celebrity may not be the best choice of a firm for you if you are managing a smaller, lesser-known company. The skill set and connections necessary for launching an unknown person or company are much different than those required for touting a household name.  Rarely do such skills or connections translate between status or market capitalization.

Firms that say they can “ghost-write” and create “though-leaders” should be able to present many complicated, in-depth articles that support such claims.   Writing in someone else’s “voice” is a unique talent.

Firms claiming to be “leading” anything—particularly in the new world of social media, should also be able to document plenty of proof as to what kinds of worldwide audiences they have been able to garner for both their own firms and those of their clients.

Before hiring any firm, determine:

  • Is the firm is experienced in your industry?
  • Can they document strong placements from other clients in your field?
  • Are they asking you the right questions? Showing that they understand your objectives and needs?
  • Can you see writing samples?
  • Can you see the pitch letters that resulted in the story placements?
  • If you are seeking social media & on-line help, does the leader of the firm have a strong on-line presence?
  • Do they only talk about social media—or do they actually talk about which tools work and the strategies to use or not use, and why?
  • When discussing the new buzz word “content”—have you seen well-written articles?
  • What are the means of dissemination for your proposed content strategy? Is the destination highly trafficked?
  • Is the team assigned process and strategy oriented? Are you getting a “bait and switch”?
  • How does the agency document their work and results? What metrics can you use to measure success?
  • Is there an out-clause in the contract if you’re not seeing results?
  • Are they willing to provide references?
  • AND—do you like them?

Hire a PR firm for the skills you need.  If you’re working with a company and a team that you like, one that is delivering quality placements on your behalf, and if they’re also giving you strong strategic advice and good counsel – stick with them!  If the results you are seeking don’t materialize as promised within less than a couple of months—it is high time to move on.  There are great agencies out there that take serious pride in their work and accomplishments for their clients.  Find the one that fits your needs and delivers.