If you're an entrepreneur or small business owner who's never worked with a PR firm before, the process of finding, vetting and hiring one can be daunting. Whether you find a PR firm through word of mouth, social media, a conference or another route, here are five questions you should ask to determine whether that firm is a good fit.
1. How do you measure success?
The results of PR can be less tangible than those of other marketing or advertising methods. In my opinion, the thing that makes PR so powerful -- entering public consciousness in a much more organic way than, say, running a banner ad on a website -- also makes it more difficult to measure. Still, hiring a PR firm is an investment, so that firm should have an idea of what success looks like and be willing to work with you to make sure PR helps you accomplish your company's objectives.
When we are talking to a potential new client, we want to understand why they're hiring a PR firm. Is customer acquisition the primary goal? Do they want to differentiate themselves from their competitors? Do they want to highlight their founder or CEO as a thought leader? Most PR firms -- ourselves included -- have some kind of monitoring service that can show how much coverage our clients are getting, how it compares to their competitors, how it's evolved over time, etc. Our clients come to us with a range of different objectives, but we always strive to use the tools at our disposal, as well as any metrics they have, to constantly make sure PR is helping move the needle on those goals.
2. What relevant experience do you bring to the table?
When looking for a PR firm, it makes sense to research which ones work with your competitors or other companies within your industry. Having experience with similar companies -- and relationships with the media that covers them -- can certainly be an indication that the PR firm would be a good fit. But that's not the only thing you should consider when weighing your options.
Again, it goes back to your goals and what you want to get out of PR. If you're launching a new product or service, the firm should be able to provide case studies of successful launches. If thought leadership is your main objective, ask them to point to examples of work they've done in that area. The basic formula for PR is the same, regardless of which industry you're in. It's more important for your firm to understand why you're investing in PR and to be able to demonstrate how they've accomplished those same goals for other companies.
3. What’s your process of pitching stories?
This isn't a question many companies ask us when they're considering hiring us, but they should. For example, our firm is unique in that we pitch reporters over the phone and over email (while most firms solely rely on email pitches). That way, we are making sure we reach as many reporters who should be covering our clients as possible and not resting on our laurels.
The firm should also talk about how they create their pitches, because it will give you an idea of how much time and resources they're expecting you to contribute. Our clients all have different preferences, but generally speaking, we create pitches based on previous conversations with our clients or other materials (such as whitepapers or blog posts) they've already created, so they have to put in as little work as possible.
4. How do you prefer communicating with clients?
Ideally, your PR firm will want to work with you to determine the best way to keep you informed on their priorities and progress. In most cases, we have a weekly call where we can talk about what we're focusing on, hear about any upcoming news or announcements from our clients, and suggest upcoming pitch ideas. But that doesn't mean we're just talking to our clients once a week -- we're constantly in touch with them through email updates or a real-time tracker where we log our progress.
5. Why do you want to work with us?
PR can be a frustrating job. You're putting yourself out there on behalf of your clients every day, and getting rejected by reporters comes with the territory. In order for your relationship with your PR firm to be a fruitful one, they should be passionate about your business and believe in what you're trying to accomplish. They should be excited to tell reporters and the public about who you are and what you have to offer.
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