Avoid the break-up: 7 tips how to choose PR agency

Finding the right PR partner can be fickle. Like finding the right person to date, you know when it’s a perfect fit but it can take sometime before you realise it is likely to go horribly wrong.

Many businesses feel they’ve been burnt by PR people and agencies so their solution is to completely avoid PR, attempt DIY PR with mixed results or get back in the game and shop for a new PR relationship that (fingers crossed) won’t let them down. Like any relationship however, it’s best to start with honesty – on both sides.

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For too long PR practitioners have been the smooth talking, leather jacket wearing rebel boyfriend your parents warn you about. They promise the world and just end up disappointing you.

It’s time for this mentality and behavior to change. Very rarely do I meet a business owner who hasn’t had a negative or disappointing experience. While there are many talented, hard working, creative and well-connected PR people out there willing and ready to work hard for your dollars, the fact remains that without good communication at the outset, the expectations from both sides can be ill-represented and the relationship will fail.

Here are five tips to help you pinpoint Mr. or Miss Right.

How to choose PR agency

1. Play the field

It’s a good idea to speak to at least three consultants as a minimum. However, make sure you give all three the same brief so you can compare apples with apples. This is also fair for the agencies or consultant you are speaking to. Ask people you know for recommendations, look at companies that have PR receiving coverage that might work for you, check out Twitter or your industry’s trade news -there is sure to be a PR firm specialising in your sector but don’t disregard those who don’t -they may bring a fresh approach.

Also, don’t take the ideas on one agency and then opt to implement all their ideas yourself or give their ideas to another agency – it’s bad form, unfair, costs the agency time and money to give you ideas for free and happens way too often.

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2. Tell ‘em what you want

There’s a line between dictating how you want your PR campaign to be implemented and leaving it up to the PR pro. I think there should be a balance. If you can, prepare either a written or verbal brief to to define your business objectives and your communication objectives. If you can’t define these objectives, your expectations will not align with those your PR partner. If you’re not sure what your objectives are, meet with your team and work it out. There’s no point embarking on PR and/or marketing without knowing your business objectives. Brainstorm this and you will be all the wiser. Any good PR consultant should be able to develop your communications objectives based on your business objectives.

3. Know your worth…and theirs

I never expect my clients to share their budget with me when we’re in the “dating” phase but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a clear idea what you want. Like any relationship, know what you are willing to invest before you get started. You don’t necessarily need to share it at first but it’s good to know what you can devote to PR and then the issue of cost can be removed from the equation.

4. Here’s the deal…the real one

You might not know it but PR people love it when you tell them your real situation. If you can blurt out your real problem, most will fall over themselves trying to resolve the issue and create opportunities around your ideas and issues. Don’t be shy and don’t pretend, remember the right person is there to actually help you. Remember: your potential PR partner is not a journalist. They will be working for you. Don’t treat the briefing stage as a media interview. Tell the truth so the PR personal can really help you solve your problems.

5. Avoid the fast, smooth talker

I don’t care who you are, anyone that talks fast and too much during the proposal, briefing stage is not listening and won’t deliver what you need let alone what you want. It’s one thing to get excited about an idea and another to fail to ask questions and listen. So if the PR people you are taking to are fast talking about their other clients’ results and their high profile journalistic contacts without asking you constructive questions forget it. It’s not going to work…unless you want to throw your money away.

6. Do you read? You know…books and newspapers and stuff?

Anyone can pitch a story to a journalist and be published – you don’t need to have a relationship. Yes it does help to be well connected and know someone but any self respecting journalist or editor will respond to a good story whether they know you or not.

So…ask your potential PR firm what they read.

BRW’s Leo d’Angelo Fisher suggested this one and I think it is a brilliant question. If they can answer you straight away this is a good sign and if they stumble it’s an even better indication of what they’re really about…your dollars most likely.

Your want your PR firm to be reading. It’s ok if they don’t yet read your industry’s news or your favorite newspaper. If they can demonstrate that news is an important part if their day, this what matters.

Hint: If you have a chance to meet the junior in the agency ask them too. They’ll most likely be doing most of your pitching so it’s great to have a guide on how they present themselves. While you’re at it, ask your agency to break down the roles if who will be working on what components of your campaign.

7. Let’s stick together…

Your time might be limited but the more material, information and new content you can provide to your PR partner the better your results will be. Try and discover a process with your PR partner to make the relationship information sharing as seamless as possible to alleviate the need for you to chase them and vice versa. You’re in it together and if done right you’ll avoid a heartbreaking fling and develop a mutually beneficial, long lasting relationship.

Felicity Grey is founder and Managing Director of The Theory Crew – PR and Marketing Communications helping SMEs unlock ideas, drive results and unleash potential. Theory Crew has DIY PR products to help businesses achieve their PR goals. Visit www.theorycrew.com.au

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3 replies on “Avoid the break-up: 7 tips how to choose PR agency

  • Kasia

    thank you Felicity for the tips! it’s good to be aware. Love the ‘avoid the fast, smooth talker’ and advice about not sharing the budget in the “dating” phase

  • elizabeth

    Another good idea – is to ask the agency if a JUNIOR will be pitching/working on your account – and if so how long the junior has been there. Have a meeting one of one with the junior. Decide if you are confident with your media messages being ‘pitched’ to seasoned journalists by a newbie or a seasoned professional who has years of media exerience and knows their way around print, TV – Radio and online.

  • Felicity Grey

    Thanks Kasia!

    Hi Elizabeth, I think this is a brilliant suggestion! I think less experienced staff should be brought along to client meetings wherever possible.

    At Theory Crew we always introduce our junior staff to clients but I actually make sure I or my senior staff are the ones talking to journalists.

    Of course our less experienced staff also get the opportunity to talk to the media but only when they demonstrate an excellent understanding of the project and always under guidance. They need to feel comfortable and know they have support of a senior member of staff when they need it and I need to be certain that they are doing the best possible job for our clients.

    Great suggestion and thanks for your feedback!

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