Six “Must Have” Qualities to Look for When Hiring a PR Firm
By Evan Weisel, Principal & Co-Founder, Welz & Weisel Communications
Companies hire a public relations firm for all kinds of reasons: to build brand recognition, create awareness for its products and services, help with messaging and positioning within target markets, and ultimately build programs that drive leads to support the sales force (whether direct or indirect). In addition, many organizations just do not have the time to implement and execute a comprehensive public relations program i n-house and need to turn to outside counsel to add or supplement what is already being done.
So, as you get serious about reviewing prospects for the job, what do you look for? You will likely get proposals from dozens of contenders that claim they are the best choice. So how do you differentiate among public relations firms? The decision should come down to whether the agency exhibits strong grounding with respect to six, essential qualities:
You don’t hire employees expecting them to stay less than a year. So why would you want to bring on a firm that can’t keep a client for any longer? Let’s face it: If a firm has a history of accounts that turn over within 12 months that is a negative “churn and burn” rate you don’t want. What you need is a long-term, strategic partner, not a firm that promises the moon to prospective clients in hopes of landing them and then promptly drops the ball. Clients may not stick around for decades – agreements end for many reasons that have nothing to do with performance issues. But, you do certainly want to see continuity within the client roster, as opposed to a revolving-door situation.
In the end, it’s all about results. However, seek results that are both quantifiable and qualitative, with demonstrated ROI. Getting ink and visibility in places that your customers do not read or visit is worthless. The value for a company is visibility in front of the right audience – prospective buyers. One of my pet peeves is promising a certain number of articles, awards or speaking slots. Do not get caught up in a numbers game. Too many firms still commit to X number of briefings and articles, X number of press releases, and X number of…well anything. What happens in this scenario is the firm is not focused on attaining results that align with the overall company objectives or have a positive impact on the business. Instead they are determined to hit the promised numbers, regardless if it helps your business or not. Ultimately, a solid and respected public relations firm will deliver impactful results that help your organization’s brand and bottom line – both in numbers and quality.
Get to know the public relations team members who will work your account. Are there enough senior members on board? Or, is the firm attempting to assign mainly junior members to you? While we employ many junior staffers at our firm, they’re part of a team managed by seasoned professionals, who came to us with proven track records. Watch out for the “Bait and switch” – meaning ask for the team that will work on the account to be in the pitch meeting. Too often in our industry firm’s bring in senior talent and replace them with junior staffers.
Insist before signing on with a firm that all or most team members meet with you to gain insight into their backgrounds, especially related to your industry sector. Another important detail to ask prospective firms: How long do people stay at the firm? You certainly don’t want a constant flow of new team members working on your campaigns that cost extra time and money to bring them up to speed on your account.
4. Track Record/Experience
Does the public relations firm have experience serving clients within your industry? Do they know your market sector (consumer, technology, healthcare, etc.)? Don’t be fooled with a proposal around the false idea that “Public Relations rules apply across the board, regardless of a client’s particular industry sector …” because every sector is very different and this type of thinking only leads to a cookie-cutter approach, or worse, not getting results. For example, if your company is looking to sell into the government, does the firm you are looking to hire understand the nuances of this very unique sector?
Think about it: When you’re going out to eat, do you pick restaurants that have Thai, Mexican and Italian food on the menu? I hope not. That would speak to a kitchen attempting to please too many diverging palates. Similarly, every industry sector is totally different so expertise in your industry is valuable. Hire public relations professionals who really understand how to execute a messaging strategy for your business category.
Any agency worth its retainer should offer a broad range of services. No one can afford to be one dimensional in today’s environment so the best candidate should demonstrate strong performance levels in deploying integrated programs that include traditional public relations (press releases, media pitches, award nominations, guest editorials, etc.), social-media strategies, content development, and thought leadership activities.
A public relations campaign can take shape in the form of Twitter feeds, blogs, podcasts, webinars, white papers, bylined articles, case studies, contests, trade show appearances, speaking engagements and/or mega-media events, among other formats. All require a public relations professional who understands how to integrate these multiple platforms.
Also, it is important to note that it is not enough for a public relations person to know how to utilize both traditional and digital media. A true professional can skillfully weave the right messaging within so the resulting media reporting is on-point and elevates corporate executives quoted as high-profile experts/thought leaders. Any young public relations firm employee can send a tweet, for example but it takes a combination of written-word skills and modern-media savvy to transform the tweet into an outlet for optimal messaging.
We like to point out that most public relations firms offer the same basic core services. What separates great firms from good firms is creativity – coming up with programs that are memorable and set your company apart. The biggest “hits” we have generated for our clients through the years have come from proactive, thought-provoking campaigns that we created from scratch. Have the agency provide examples and case studies of their creative programs.
I also have one additional point to the six listed above which is to be sure to screen the client roster for competitive conflicts. Obviously, you should never hire a public relations firm already committed to supporting one of your top competitors. If you hear a firm say, “We can manage the conflict of interest issue as we will employ an entirely separate team for your company,” that simply will not work well for your needs. It indicates that the contender public relations firm is willing to compromise working in the best interest of its clients simply for expanding its own revenue base.
It is not easy finding the right firm but hopefully we can agree that these are six key traits to consider before signing on the dotted line.
Evan Weisel is co-founder/principal at Welz and Weisel Communications (www.w2comm.com). Welz & Weisel Communications is a leading tech PR agency is focused on creating proactive, ongoing communications campaigns that yield measurable results for clients in the business-to-business and business-to-government high-technology marketplaces. The firm helps launch, build and sustain communications programs for both privately-held and publicly-traded companies. Visit www.w2comm.com or call 703-218-3555 and connect with us via: Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter (@W2Comm).
Published: June 8, 2012 By: