By Filomena Fanelli, CEO/Founder, Impact PR & Communications, Ltd.
Most business executives and managers make hiring decisions to address needs in their personal lives, whether it’s a contractor to renovate a bathroom, a mechanic to fix their vehicle or a CPA to advise them during tax season. However, when it’s time to pull in a PR and communications expert for their business, many of those same company leaders are at a loss. Of course they are. Most possess a limited understanding of the industry and its professional practices, so how, then, would they know if a PR professional was the right fit for their company’s needs? Hint: if they ask the right questions they’ll be ahead of the game. Before retaining a public relations agency or marketing firm, here are 10 points to ask about:
- Do you have any experience in my business sector?
While some firms are generalists, it may make sense to partner with an agency that has industry-specific expertise from which to draw. For PR professionals, that means knowing which producers or reporters to reach out to for a real estate story on, say, a unique mega-mansion, and what criteria those media professionals look for in making decisions. Don’t hesitate to ask if a company has worked with firms like yours and what they most enjoy working on.
- In what geographic areas have you worked?
In addition to industry experience, some companies possess a deep knowledge of a particular market and are experts in the local landscape. While it’s not always a necessity, if you are looking to reach a hyper-local audience, engaging a firm with proven chops and a deep understanding of the culture and demographics of your city or region may prove helpful.
- What industry-specific tools do you use and in which professional organizations do you belong?
Not all firms invest in tools and education equally. In the public relations business, there are many tools of the trade, including media-lead subscription sites and research databases filled with editorial calendars and contact information to create lists for outreach. There are also professional organizations, including the Public Relations Society of America, Women in Communications and more. Working with an agency that commits to growth and professionalism by investing in industry tools and organizations means you’ll benefit from their broad knowledge base and use of leading-edge technology.
- What would my account team look like?
Are you looking to work with a solopreneur who will give you one-on-one attention or a robust account team with many hands at-the-ready? The ideal fit may depend on the size of your business and/or the level of your needs. Ask about which skills and experiences the agency’s team will bring to the table. Find out what will happen if your day-to-day contact is out of the office. Learn about what level of experience each party will bring to their work and how many hands you’ll have on deck.
- Do you have any testimonials or case studies to share?
A firm worth its weight in retainer fees will have a legacy of performance from which to draw. Look for a client list on the agency’s website and testimonials from current or past clients or case studies showing tangible results. You may even want to contact several of the firm’s clients to get a feel for the work that was done and level of satisfaction.
- Does your firm have the capacity to add us into the client mix?
This may seem like a given, but it’s important to ensure that the agency has the time and room in its roster to fully welcome you. If the agency is unsure or its availability does not line up with yours, ask for a referral. Most public relations and marketing professionals have other firms they can recommend to you to ensure your needs are met.
- What does success look like, for you and for us?
It’s a good idea to define, at the onset of a new relationship, what the goals of the engagement are on both sides. Some clients want to secure speaking engagements and thought leadership pieces, while others might require heavy social media support. On the agency side, it’s important to decide how a positive outcome looks. Perhaps it’s an award-winning campaign that’s more creative than past efforts or a desired number of top-tier media placements or a change in public perception. For PR professionals, the ideal client partnership is one where there’s frequent, positive communication, a clear understanding of the process and goals, and a mutual respect and admiration.
- Why are you interested in working with me?
This may sound like an odd question to ask, but every business should feel that it is aligned with a firm that is passionate about its brand or mission. For instance, our firm once got called in to work with a not-for-profit serving individuals with developmental disabilities, a cause that’s close to me since a now-deceased family member received services from the organization many years ago. What’s more, I ran a race to raise funds for the non-profit long before I launched a public relations agency. To say that I had a passion for the agency’s mission – along with the right expertise to assist them with their efforts – would be an understatement. We still work with this agency and our enthusiasm for the work is as intense as it was on day-one of the engagement.
- Do you work with any of our competitors?
If industry or geographic exclusivity is a concern, ask if the firm works with any of your direct competitors or if the agency is open to that. Some agencies represent multiple parties within a given sector, while others are willing to let your company “own” that category during the time you are under contract. There’s no one right or wrong answer to this question, but it’s good to ask about to ensure that both parties are on the same page.
- Can I get a detailed proposal?
Although a firm handshake and a promise still matter in today’s world, a formal proposal and letter of agreement help both parties understand the full scope of their engagement. Be sure the terms of payment, late fees and all other relevant details are spelled out and that a roadmap for how you’ll reach your goals together is in the plan.
Once you’ve made the right selection, the fun part begins: partnering with your new agency to get the results you’re after. To your success!