Choosing a Public Relations Firm

Choosing a public relations firm is an important decision. The firm you hire can make the difference between your business achieving and not achieving its public relations goals and your feeling like you've received a good return on your investment or as though you've thrown your money down a hole.

What to Think About Before You Begin Your Search for a Public Relations (PR) Firm

What are your public relations goals? For example:

-- Are you looking for local or national publicity?

-- Do you want attention from radio, TV, print media, or all three?

-- Do you need help with an e-newsletter or with email marketing?

-- Do you want a firm that will help you plan and manage your social media efforts?

-- Do you want help promoting a book you wrote?

-- Do you want a firm that can help you set up events and/or help your business become more actively involved in charitable activities?

Some firms can handle all of your needs, while others specialize in providing specific services or in working with clients in certain kinds of industries.

Do you want to be able to have regular face-to-face meetings with your public relations firm? Or are you comfortable working with a firm via the phone, e-mail, and Skype as long as you get results?

How much you can afford to pay for public relations help? Generally, large public relations firms charge significantly more than smaller firms or one-person shops. Whatever your budget, be up-front about it when you are talking to firms.

Do you want on-going public relations assistance or are your public relations needs going to be periodic? How you plan on using a public relations firm will determine how it charges you for its services. For example, if you want on-going help, a firm will probably propose billing you on a retainer basis. This means that you will pay the firm a set amount of money each month in exchange for it spending an agreed-upon number of hours meeting your business' public relations needs. However, if you plan on using the services of a public relations firm just once and a while -- on a project basis -- then it makes sense for the firm to charge you a fixed fee or hourly basis.

Issues to Consider When You Begin Contacting Public Relations Firms:

If you're thinking about hiring a solo practitioner -- someone who works alone. Find out how many active clients he or she has and as best you can, assess whether that person will have enough time to spend on your account. Also, make certain that the pr professional has the experience and skills you are looking for based on the goals you've set. The same advice applies if you are talking with a very small pr firm that employs only a few professionals.

If you want to hire a larger firm. Ask who will actually work on your account and what that person’s experience and credentials are.

Warning! Some firms use a seasoned professional to land a new account and then turn the account over to someone less experienced. Certainly, a less experienced pr pro may do a fine job helping you achieve your public relations goals, but even so, you should be clear from the start who will be handling your account day-to-day and you should have an opportunity to meet that individual in-person or by phone before you decide whether or not you want to hire the firm.

Visit the web sites of the public relations firms you are considering.

--Are their sites attractive, well-written and well-organized? Do they emphasize the kinds of services you are looking for?

-- What kinds of clients are the firms currently working with and what sorts of clients have they worked with in the past? Are those clients similar to your firm in terms of size and industry type?

-- Do the firms list a representative sample of the media that have given their clients attention? Does your firm want attention from those same media?

Warning! Don't let yourself get wowed by a flashy web site. It says nothing about what the firm with the site can actually do for you.

Talk with a number of firms about your public relations goals to find out how each of them would go about helping you achieve those goals. Are you comfortable with what they are recommending?

Ask to see samples of the work the firms have done for other clients. Also, find out about the kinds of results that work produced.

After You’ve Narrowed the Field Down to Just a Couple Firms:

Ask each firm to prepare a proposal for you that details among other things what it will do to help you achieve your goals -- specifics are better than generalities -- the time lines involved, and the fee you will be charged. Is a firm's proposal clear and well organized; does it reflect an understanding of your marketing goals and challenges; does it respond directly to what you discussed when you talked with the firm or does it read like a generic presentation?

After you're read the proposals, ask the firms that are still in the running for your business for the names of some of their clients so you can speak with them. Then contact those clients to find out about their experiences working with the firms.

Finally, understand that no firm can create public relations miracles for your business. Getting good results will require work on both your parts as well as open and honest communication with each other, cooperation, and mutual respect. In other words, it will take teamwork to make your relationship work.

Not sure that working with a pr agency is right for your firm? This article spells out many of the key benefits of doing so.

Return to top of page: Choosing a Public Relations Firm