What To Look For In A PR Firm

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

In the business world, communication is everything – and the value of being able to communicate effectively cannot be understated. There’s a reason public relations is so valued in enterprise, after all. PR professionals are communicators by trade; they know exactly how to establish a rapport with their audience, and precisely how to handle a given situation, whether it’s a crisis or simply an outreach campaign.

Of course, they don’t often come cheap. Hiring a PR firm is usually a pretty hefty investment, so it sort of goes without saying that you want to make sure you aren’t just throwing your money down a pit. With that in mind, today’s piece is going to go over some of the factors you should consider while going through the hiring process. But before we get into the meat of the piece, there are a few ground rules we need to establish:

  • Know what you want before finding a firm: The first question you need to ask yourself is why you’re hiring a PR firm. Are you looking to manage a recent brand disaster, increase exposure, or simply communicate better with your customers?  How will you measure success?
  • Have at least some understanding of your audience: While most PR firms will do their own research into your target demographic, you can help the process along by having the information readily available before you hire. Knowing your audience will also help prospective firms determine whether or not you can work together.
  • Make sure you’ve the required budget: And don’t skimp on it. It might be tempting to hire a cheap firm, but you should never sacrifice quality just to save a few bucks.
  • There’s a difference between public relations and media relations: A lot of people group media relations and public relations under the same umbrella. While the two are certainly related – media relations is a component of PR – they’re still distinct from one another. PR professionals are creative storytellers, acting as liaisons to the public; media relations teams are strictly concerned with the media.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what you should look for in your future business partners.

They Know People

Public relations at its core is about relationship building – ergo, the best public relations firms will have a pretty big address book. They’ll know journalists, editors, independent bloggers, advertising agencies, marketing firms, business partners; you get the idea. Basically, they’ll have the contacts necessary to get your name out there right away.

“You want to make sure the person you select has immediate access to some of the outlets you want to appear in as well as ensure they have the ability to reach those you haven’t even thought about,” reads a post on the Above Promotions Blog. “This happens through their personal contacts as well as the use of the right service and platform to help your brand connect with media personnel.”

You Like Them The Moment You Meet Them

Contacts aside, consider how you feel about each firm when you first meet them. What sort of impression did they make on you? Does someone on their team rub you the wrong way? Is there something about their representatives that you simply don’t like?

Trust your gut here – if you dislike the people from a particular firm the moment you meet them, don’t hire them. Go with people you feel comfortable working beside. People with charisma and common ground who earn your respect the moment you meet.

“The best agency for your company has smart people you feel comfortable with: a leader and a team you can partner with,” advises public relations professional Richard Funess. “Could you see yourself enjoying a dinner or sitting next to each other at a baseball game, or inviting your spouse and your agency head to dinner? If not, then the agency you’ve chosen, no matter how “competitive” the rates, is not right for you.”

“If you have doubts about the personality of a key team member or don’t trust them to deal with corporate information, a crisis or an issues management problem, or even sit in the same room alongside the rest of your crisis team, then you don’t want that PR agency,” he adds.

They Know Their Way Around Social Media

I’ll be blunt – pretty much everyone uses social media in some way, shape or form, whether they’re on Reddit or Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr. What that means is that if you’re looking to gain exposure, you should make use of social networks as well…and so should your PR firm. You want to look for someone who gets the new avenues of digital communication.

Traditional PR is all well and good, but make sure whoever you hire knows about new technology, as well.

“Technology has completely changed the way a PR professional does their job. Using the web – and social media, in particular – means you’re going to build your brand and gain awareness much more quickly than in the past,” writes Arment Dietrich CEO Gini Dietrich.

Client Support Is A Priority

Before you set out to hire a firm, take a moment to think about how much support you’re going to need atop what you’ve hired your agency to do. Ask them how they deal with customer service. Do they have a support line? How do they communicate with their clients outside of planned meetings?

“Is support available 24/7 or only Mondays to Fridays during office hours?” asks Liz of PR in Your Pajamas “Can you call your account manager directly? How quickly do they respond to support issues? You may not need your PR agency to be at your beck and call, but you do want one that will respond within a reasonable amount of time.”

They’ve Got A Proven Track Record

Does the firm you’re looking at have experience working in your industry, with businesses of similar size to yours? Do they have any client success stories they can draw on in order to show what they can do? Who have they worked with in the past, and what was the result?

“You will probably benefit from hiring a firm that has experience with your type of business,” explains Entrepreneur’s Jane Porter. “Ask to see results from past campaigns with clients in your industry. You should also find out if the people who managed those accounts are still with the agency because you may want to ask to work with them.”

“It’s easy for one person to say how great they are,” says Above Promotions,  “but are their peers or other industry experts saying the same thing? Does the publicist appear on any industry panels, news articles or shows as an expert in their field? Are they a go-to-resource for others?”

They “Click” With Your Organization

Even if you like the people at a particular firm, that doesn’t mean the agency will work with your organizational culture. You need to make sure your prospective PR team has the same values that your business embodies. Ask yourself honestly: will your business’s way of doing things clash with the firm you’re looking to hire?

“Is your company bureaucratic or entrepreneurial? Fast-paced or deliberate? You will be more comfortable with a firm that mirrors your own culture,” advises public relations expert Robert Wynne. “I recently pitched a California university that wanted the second part of a four-part “branding platform” to be completed in strict order, including a series of focus groups, before any materials could be presented for PR purposes. By contrast, I work quickly to line up reporters and get the word out. Not a good fit.”

Their Ideas Are Awesome

Last but certainly not least, what ideas do they present when asked how they’ll help you meet your goals? How do those ideas make you feel? Excited?

That’s great – you’ve found the right firm. They’re a fit.

“In the pitch meetings, if the PR firms have done their homework and prepared properly, they will present a few different PR campaign ideas based on your RFP requirements,” writes marketer Mark Cowlin. “I generally take these ideas with a grain of salt, after all these PR firms are not fully on-boarded and have limited knowledge of your brand. That said, at least one of the ideas should be out-of-the-box and cool enough to get you excited!”

Closing Thoughts

Hiring a public relations firm is a pretty big decision, and pricy too. If you make the right choice, however, the costs will be more than worth it. And now that you know precisely what to look for, there’s only one thing left to do.

Get out there and start searching.