The doubt and the back and forth and the circular thinking always sounds the same. You want PR but you’re not sure you have the budget. You know you need to retain a PR firm with a great reputation, but you don’t know what kind of specialization you need, because you don’t know what your best strategy is. You need storytelling capabilities and the contacts that agencies provide. So who do you hire?
Here are 5 ways to vet an agency.
- Search online for brand mentions. PR firms are image makers and brand stewards. They deal in perception. They had better have earned good mentions in the media and in social networks for themselves if they claim to do it for clients. Google the name of the agency to see what type of mix they have (be sure to check the “News” tab 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.
- 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.
- Call around. Don’t rely on the Internet for all your information, even if that’s what we’ve been trained to do. Contact local chapters of trade groups like PRSA, IABC and 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: both 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?
- Decide how you’ll prioritize industry experience. Is it helpful? Yes. Is it critical? Not always. Unless you are determined to work with an agency with specific niche 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) does not track in a straight line with years in the business. The ability to access relevant reporters and influencers and the facility to generate consistent and meaningful results is paramount.
- Decide on what makes a “win”. 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.
When you’ve finished your homework and put us through the paces, give us a call.
Tony DeFazio is an accomplished public relations professional and entrepreneur who has led three agencies. He bootstrapped his first business, growing it through the Great Recession to achieve an exit. He excels at developing narratives and delivering them with resonance and impact to influencers and media around the world. DeFazio is a respected thought leader who has served in leadership positions of industry associations, and was elected President of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), Philadelphia Chapter and Heritage Region Board of Directors, representing 17 states in the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West.