Hiring a PR firm to represent your company can often feel like you’re driving blind with only a stack of flashy Powerpoint slides as your roadmap. It’s incredibly hard to determine capabilities and team cohesion with only a few short introductory calls or meetings. The PR firm-to-company relationship is one that relies on a cohesive team dynamic, a good set of expectations and open communication. Asking the right questions up front can set the entire partnership up for success and eliminate missteps down the road.
So, what are some questions you should consider asking a PR firm before making the decision to officially work together? Here are just a few to get you started:
1. Who will I be working with?
This question goes beyond scheduling a meet and great with the group that pitched your company. You want to determine who will be dedicated to your account on an ongoing basis. Who is your day-to-day contact in case you need a quick response? How involved will the Partners or VPs be on the account?
There are no deal-breakers or wrong answers to these questions when hiring a PR firm, but it’s necessary to have a clear understanding of who is ultimately responsible for driving your PR program forward. It’s not uncommon for VPs to provide high-level strategy and jump in for any crisis situations, while a Program Director (or similar title) handles day-to-day account management with a larger team. The important part is that you feel comfortable with your account lead and spend some time getting to know all members of your group beyond the big titles. In the end, you need to know the players on the team and how they work together to achieve your goals.
2. What type of measurement/reporting do you provide?
A good PR team will have reporting mechanisms in place to show program success (this can vary from simple metrics built around coverage numbers to more advanced website and lead-gen data). How and when the team reports on activities should be discussed up-front. If your team looked puzzled by this question or tries to sell you on the mantra “PR is sort of hard to quantify…”, it might be wise to look in another direction. PR should be transparent and built around data.
It’s also important to understand if a PR firm can customize reporting to meet your format? Defining that success and how it’s measured is critical when hiring a PR firm. What might be a great hit for one client (or a good number of downloads) is not necessarily ground-breaking for another. Furthermore, does the firm understand what outlets have both the audience and domain authority to impact your marketing goals?
Coming together with affirm to sync on your top goals upfront is critical – whether it’s up-leveling an executive team member, winning industry awards or driving website traffic. Your goals should inform the type of measurement and frequency of reporting you receive.
3. What will you do in the absence of news?
It’s easy to gain coverage when there is a constant stream of news. It takes a proactive PR team to keep your company top-of-mind when there are no product launches or interesting business activities. When hiring a PR firm ask your team how they plan to keep the cadence up outside of busy news times. Good answers to look for include leveraging contributed articles to up-level your executive team and subject matter experts, and proactive pitching based on existing content and newsjacking. In addition, don’t just accept tactics as answers. Have the team put on their creative thinking-cap and share some a small number of real ideas they feel could be successful. PR teams that want to work with you will take this extra step.
4. How do you bill?
Every PR firm handles billing differently, but you’ll want to be on the same page before you receive your first invoice. Are you working on a retainer basis or are they billing hourly? What extras can you expect added on the top (expenses)? Most firms charge some type of subscription or administration fee to cover costs and some have a monthly minimum regardless of time worked. On a related note, it’s good to ask how and if they track their time internally.
While it may seem like a no-brainer question, details around billing/invoicing/payments are often overlooked and can create confusion and delays later on. This should be clear no only in the courting stage, but also outlined in your contract. Also, many firms have restrictive retainers and contracts. When hiring a PR firm, consider looking for agencies that have a 30-day out (this usually indicates these firms are confident in their ability to meet your expectations).
5. What do you need from us?
Throughout this blog we’ve emphasized the “team” and discussed the idea of a “partnership” multiple times. PR isn’t a “hire and forget it” type of service. Yes, your team should be proactive and push activities forward regardless of what they’re receiving from you, however it takes a lot of collaboration, especially at the beginning to be successful. Be up-front and realistic about the amount of time you can dedicate to the public relations side of your business. If the firm knows that you have limited bandwidth, they can develop a strategy that requires a lower lift from the client side.
Good firms will understand that availability can fluctuate and have a plan in place for when that happens, whether its repurposing older content for a pitch that plays into a new trend, or leveraging news stories to give your company a chance to provide insights. However, the best partnerships are the ones where both firm and client are involved and dedicated to spreading the company message.
With clear expectations, a common goal, and great communication, the client to PR firm relationship can be one that is productive and successful for both parties.