You have your budget, or maybe you don’t. You have concluded the world needs to know about your business. You need storytelling capabilities and contacts that agencies provide. But how do you go about making the selection and determining whether they will be a fit with your organization?

Here are 5 ways to vet an agency.

  1. Search online for brand mentions— PR firms are image makers and brand stewards. They deal in perception. They had better have good mentions in the media and in social networks. Google the name of the agency to see what type of mix they have (be sure to check “News” as well as “All”). Can you find advertising, pay per click mentions or credible media reported on their work? That’s important, because any agency worth their salt should stay relevant with the press.
  2. Review case studies, testimonials and blogs —These three elements are more important than any other content. Are they taking the time to share their insights with the world? That should tell you a lot. If they are going to guide your business, you should be able to see what they have done for others and how they think about the PR business and marketing at large.
  3. Call around— Don’t rely on the internet for all your information. Contact local chapters of trade groups like PRSA, IABC and even the local chapter of the Chamber of Commerce to inquire about the reputation of agencies. News distributions services are another good source. PR Newswire and Business Wire have relationships with agencies. You want to know about their style and client services. What is the reputation of the CEO or President? The culture of the agency is driven by the person at the top. If you’re really doing solid due diligence, you need to speak with clients: past and present. You need to hear a personal perspective on what it is like to work with the agency. What is the typical level of experience for account managers that service accounts? How did they resolve problems with account services?
  4. What about industry experience?— This is a tricky one. Is it helpful? Yes. Is it critical? Not necessarily. Unless you are determined to work with an agency with specific experience, you should be open minded with your evaluation of the PR practitioner. Often, strong capabilities in storytelling (how to identify and frame the story), the ability to access relevant reporters and influencers and the facility to generate consistent and meaningful results is paramount.
  5. Get results— At the end of the day, you’re paying to see your brand making headlines. It’s important to ensure that whoever you’re looking into not only gets clients mentioned in media but positions them as the focal point of a piece. This type of feature story, or “rich media”, is what will really make your brand stand out. You’ll want to note the quality of the publication as well. Make sure that placements align with your company’s goals and values.

Happy hunting!