I also get lots of questions from readers about how to find a great public relations agency. I have no clue, so I asked Richard Funess, senior managing partner of Finn Partners, for his take.
Here's what Richard had to say:
Hiring a new PR firm is an investment. Like all investments, it should only be made after careful internal and external due diligence paired with reasonable expectations on what success looks like--"reasonable" being the operative word.
If you find yourself agreeing with the following points you should definitely not hire a PR agency. You and the agency will suffer a fair amount of grief and plenty of lost sleep--and you'll wind up with a terrible ROI.
You might even never want to seek outside PR counsel again. That could be a major detriment to your overall future marketing plans (and mine too).
Don't hire a PR agency, in specific and in general, when:
You don't have a clear idea how you will measure results.
Too often a company's first foray into the PR world goes awry because they only have a vague definition of what success will look like or how it will be determined.
If you're looking for a major boost in sales, your face on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, or repeat appearances on national television, you're probably headed down the wrong path. Successful PR results differ by company and objectives.
Know your objectives before signing with the agency, or work out your objectives with them. And if the agency can't help you figure out what success looks like for your business, move on. Find another firm.
Always establish clear metrics and set specific goals.
You want a particular agency simply because it had success with a competitor.
My grandfather's favorite saying applies: "That was then, this is now." If they did such a great job for a competitor, why are they not working for them anymore? That's the first question to ask when they present case histories.
Try to understand exactly what type of campaign the agency provided and if it aligns with what you need.
You feel simpatico with another agency... but this one is 25% cheaper.
The best agency for your company has smart people you feel comfortable with: a leader and team you can partner with.
Could you see yourself enjoying a dinner or sitting next to each other at a baseball game, or inviting your spouse and your agency head to dinner? If not, then the agency you've chosen, no matter how "competitive" the rates, is not right for you.
Enjoying a comfort level between the company and the PR team is critical for a successful PR program. You must be able to view the agency as partners, in the best sense of the word, if you hope to achieve your objectives.
You can't picture this agency providing strategic counsel.
Great PR firms are more than people with good media contacts who can generate publicity. They must be able to understand your business principles and profit scenarios, not just provide "ink" and media coverage.
Make them prove they understand your industry, can speak your language, can offer advice that enhances your current and future marketing objectives, and see themselves as professional consultants who are a value-add to your firm.
If they don't get it, you won't get it--advice and public relations counsel, that is.
You aren't totally confident within the first five minutes.
If you have doubts about the personality of a key team member, or don't trust them to deal with corporate information, a crisis or an issues management problem, or even to sit in the same room alongside the rest of your crisis team of lawyers and other C-suite executives, then you don't want that PR agency team.
All they talk about is traditional PR...
...And they stumble when asked about their digital and social media capabilities, and how implementing programs involving those tools can help achieve your objectives for your company.
Without sounding age discriminatory (I'm a member of the maturity-challenged set myself), make sure whomever describes the digital media strategy and its implementation is close to the age of 30.
Young people get it. Don't be put off by their edgy clothing or braces on their teeth. They can teach you a thing or two--and more.
Your ego won't allow you to give credit to individuals at a PR firm for a job well done.
If you can't you'll ruin the relationship, and a potentially great partnership will quickly sour and lose its potency.
Instead, find a shrink and work through your feelings of superiority. It will probably do more for your internal public relations needs than hiring a new PR firm!
You don't view the relationship as a true partnership.
If you don't believe in the philosophy of outside agency partnerships, don't bother hiring a reputable public relations firm.If you consider a PR firm as a typical outside parts or services vendor, the relationship will start off on the wrong foot and probably won't last long.
A client/agency connection should be treated as a true partnership, not a typical vendor/service relationship.
Working together, as partners, is the only way to have amazing PR success--and to reach the goals you have for your business.
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden