Bracken, our PR Account Director, will often meet potential new clients that have some understanding of what PR might be able to do for them, but are nervous about investing in something that they are not always confident that they wholly understand. Here Bracken gives her ‘top tips’ for choosing your PR agency and the questions you need to ask them to ensure they are just the right fit.
Choosing your PR agency should be considered as carefully as you might consider taking on a new business partner. Your agency will be representing your business, your public voice and profile. Most importantly, they will be the face of your business when they are putting themselves between you and the media and sometimes the public to build up those initial contacts. It is very important that you develop a relationship with them and get to know them personally so that you know that you’ve developed trust and understanding. A big part of any PR person’s job should be the ability to socialise, converse and blend happily into every situation with elegant ease. Don’t be afraid to invite them to step out of their comfort zone and put them to the test!
Can you pass the salt?
I remember once going to a networking breakfast talk by Devon Designer Michael Greenwood on ‘Firing your Client’. He said that he chooses his client as someone that he would like to sit opposite at a dinner party; if he doesn’t feel he could get along with them, he doesn’t work with them. The same should be said for any client searching for the right PR representation; if you can’t have an honest, open, unguarded relationship with them then do you really want them to represent you in the outside world?
How do you do – and what do you do?
Here are some top tips that should help you to make the right decision.
1. How you doin’?
Do you get along? During the initial meet and greet with your potential agency you will typically get to know the leading person, such as the PR Account Director, but ask to meet the full team and have a look around. At Chalk & Ward our PR team has a mix of disciplines and integrates fully with our colleagues in Chalk & Ward Advertising; social media, digital, SEO, brand identity and strategy, advertising and marketing. Get a feel not only for their industry knowledge but also their personalities because you may be working closely with them – even though you may not always know it. Your PR firm should be able to understand and respect the culture of your company and be able to empathise with your pressures from stakeholders, the board and from the outside world.
2. Crossing the divide.
How will they represent your business? Ask to see some previous examples of work they have done with clients – not just in your own sector but across a whole range of others too. This will help to prove their flexibility and their ability to research. Sometimes their lack of experience in your sector can be an advantage; if your business finds it tricky to communicate your product to the average civilian customer, then what better way than someone in PR to make that bridge? If they are experienced in your sector be aware of who their other clients might be – you don’t want them to be representing your competition at the same time.
3. No. What do YOU think?
You are the expert at what you do but (hopefully) they are the expert in communicating that! Ask questions and be questioned! You can learn a lot about an agency from their questions. You’ll be hiring them to think of things you haven’t. In fact – if they are doing the right job for you – they should end up being a bit of a thorn in your side; nagging you on a weekly basis for new content, quotes, photos and information.
4. Speaking from experience…
Understand the background of the PR specialists. At Chalk & Ward our team have come from many different backgrounds and we have found that their mix is invaluable to clients; journalists, writers, TV producers, publishing, recruitment, public sector, third sector.
5. Take one!
There are different tactics to increase profile and many agencies will only use the more traditional methods such as press releases. Make sure that they can work on media relations, might be able to speak on-screen or in the media as a spokesperson in a crisis. Can they help you maximise the PR content online as well as offline? Can they use a telephone? (There’s nothing worse than a PR plan that only communicates via email!)
6. How long is a piece of string?
How do they suggest they measure success? The firm should suggest metrics that measure the success of a PR plan. If you want to increase awareness of a new product, perhaps initially you just need metrics such as the amount of press coverage or social media mentions.
7. How much?!?
Don’t assume you know what you want! Sometimes, following an initial meeting we find that we head in a completely different direction and that is the beauty of being part of a wider and integrated agency. We will make your budget, no matter how extensive or limited, work in the very best way to achieve your objectives.
Your PR agency should of course ensure that they are achieving your set objectives according to a plan that you have agreed between you, but they should also always be looking to surprise you with new ideas, especially if they are a part of a wider creative agency. At Chalk & Ward we love to get together for a creative brainstorm to come up with exciting ways to get our clients noticed – and we’re not afraid to push the boundaries!