Bill Gates and Richard Branson have both gone on record saying PR is one of their most critical business tools. Indeed Gates said if he was down to his last dollar in a business he’d spend it on PR.
It’s easy to see why. When PR is done well, it delivers results at a cost that no other marketing method can match. PR reaches hearts and minds; it creates credibility for a brand or business; it gets people talking about a company and sharing it like ardent fans. Indeed research firm Nielsen found that the kind of recommendation and sharing which PR generates is far more trusted than traditional advertising.
That’s why choosing the right PR agency is so important. Get it wrong and you will not only waste a lot of time, and money, but you will also miss out on the opportunity to create some serious clear water between your own business and the competition.
So how do you avoid making such a cataclysmic mistake? Well, here are the 9 danger signs to look out for when choosing a PR agency:
PR works at its best when it is closely aligned to your business plan. A good agency will want to understand the bigger picture, and you should be prepared to share it. If they don’t ask about your business plan DON’T use them.
2. PR Budget
If you are going the agency route you will be buying the time of good quality, experienced people. You will pay significantly for their services. However if a prospective agency appears much more interested in your PR budget than your business, alarm bells should be ringing as their priorities are all wrong!
3. Team structure
Big agencies typically pitch using their smartest, most senior people. Then as soon as the account is won, more junior personnel are left to handle the day-to-day work. That’s how many agencies make their money but it’s a monumental rip off that you shouldn’t stand for. So interrogate closely who the day-to-day campaign will be delivered by. Insist on meeting them. It’s an essential part of choosing a PR agency
You need your PR agency to be capable of deploying any of the communications tools at their disposal. You want all the skills under one roof - and we’d argue in the hands of the people who will be looking after your account. If your day-to-day team can’t do social or digital media and doesn’t understand PR’s impact on SEO they are not good enough for you.
5. Size matters but not how you think
Don’t assume a big agency will be a safer bet. Big agencies are simply a series of teams, all collected together under one roof and brand. Your account will only ever have one team assigned to it - so there is NO advantage in the agency being huge. Indeed unless your budget is very big, you will be somewhere down the list of priorities for even the team assigned to you. Whereas for a smaller agency you will be a much bigger deal and you will probably receive much better attention and care. This is reflected by the fact, as PR Week recently reported, even major brands are choosing boutique firms. Big isn’t always better when choosing a PR agency.
Don’t be seduced by the fancy offices. As soon as you are discontented with the agency’s service you will begrudge meeting at those lovely offices - feeling ‘this is where my money’s going.’
Don’t obsess with having an agency nearby. One worth its salt will travel to you quite happily…and will not charge you their time out of the office doing so.
8. Market knowledge
Many think they need someone who specialises in their sector. Don’t be limited in this way. Yes market knowledge is helpful, but someone steeped in a sector can be staid, with a dogged ‘this is the way things work’ mindset. Good PR people are smart. They can quickly pick up the nuances of a market. Better a smart agency that doesn’t know your specific market (YET) to a mediocre one that does.
9. PR Measurement
This is a crucial. When speaking to prospective agencies ask what they will be measuring in your campaign. Don’t prompt them with the answers, see what they say. If the agency is still obsessing about just measuring column inches DON’T use them. You want an agency that is keen to really measure PR, but that means measuring the stuff that shows you are achieving your goals - this could be web traffic, downloads, enquiries, sales etc.