Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatchTM
Individual PR and communications consultants are a great resource for startups, small and mid-sized businesses, as well as large companies.
As with agencies, capabilities vary significantly, so knowing the types of project where an individual may be a good fit and asking the right questions in the hiring process is critical.
As someone who’s both hired individual PR consultants at Fortune 500 companies and worked as an individual consultant, I’ve learned that a key to success when hiring agencies or consultants is to take the time to evaluate needs and define the scope of work to determine the resources and skillsets required. Projects must be aligned with the capacity and capabilities of the consultant.
In this summary of the new CommunicationsMatch™ “Guide to Hiring Individual PR Consultants”, we highlight questions to ask to navigate the process of hiring PR or communications consultants to ensure successful engagements.
Is a PR consultant the right choice?
The choice of hiring an individual consultant should start with the scope of work and skillsets required. Finding consultants with the matching expertise and fit is critical, and can be accomplished using a thorough process to evaluate and select the best one for the assignment, similar to that for choosing agencies (See the CommunicationsMatch and RFP Associates: Client Guide to Communications & PR Agency Search).
What’s the background of the PR consultant?
Understanding why communications professionals choose to work independently provides valuable context for making the decision to engage them. Are they communications entrepreneurs, professionals between gigs, or “second act” senior executives? Each will bring specific value to the table, but potentially different goals and approaches to an assignment.
Does the consultant have the right industry experience and communications expertise?
There are thousands of individual consultants with expertise across every industry and communications skillset. There will be an individual with matching expertise for every project and company. Using a comprehensive agency and consultant search tool will help you find them. CommunicationsMatch lists more than 5,000 agencies and professionals, searchable by 180 areas of industry expertise and 80 different communications skillsets.
Does the consultant have a track record of successful projects?
There’s no doubt that the work a consultant has done for prior clients and the length of engagement with those clients will say a lot about them. Getting references is essential. And, as a rule, it is important to ask for a written proposal to evaluate writing and thinking.
How much should you pay for a consultant?
The range is broad and will, in general, correspond to the experience and capabilities of each consultant. The length of relationships with existing or past clients is a good indicator of value delivered to clients. If a consultant doesn’t deliver value, assignments are likely to be short.
Is the communications consultant a good fit?
When you’re working with an individual, chemistry matters a lot because you’re hiring a person not a team. It’s important to use the engagement process as an opportunity to get a sense of their working style, responsiveness, and capacity to take on the assignment – to see if the fit is good.
Where to look for PR consultants and freelancers?
There are a number of consultant and freelancer tools with many strong consultants. While competition to win business drives low prices, this can also create a transactional approach to assignments. That may be fine for drafting a logo, but not for building a knowledge of the company that’s essential, for example, to successful media engagement.
CommunicationsMatch’s sophisticated communications-focused search tools put companies in the driver’s seat for consultant and freelancer search. Clients can search for consultants by industry and communications expertise, keywords, and other categories including designations and diversity. Our online RFQ (request for qualifications) and RFP (request for proposal) tools, developed with RFP Associates, help companies quickly and efficiently assess capabilities. Our approach is to help companies find communications partners for relationships, not hookups.
What are the takeaways?
- Take the time to evaluate the scope of work and determine if an individual PR/communications consultant is the best choice for a project
- There are consultants to match every need – do a comprehensive search to find qualified individuals with matching skillsets
- Ask questions to understand the capabilities and motivations of consultants
- Review past work and contact references
- Check for fit and capacity
Choosing an agency or individual consultant should not be viewed as an “either-or” decision. It’s about finding the best solution for a project. The good news is that companies have a lot of options. Using the tools and resources available to find the best consultant for your business and having a disciplined approach to selecting the one that’s the right match for your needs and organization, is the most direct path to successfully achieving your business, brand and reputational goals.
CommunicationsMatch offers communications & PR agency search tools and resources that help companies find, shortlist, and engage communications, digital marketing and branding agencies, consultants and freelancers by industry and communications expertise, location and size. The site has 5,000 agency and professional profiles in areas including: crisis communications, public relations, internal communications, government affairs, investor relations, content marketing, social media, SEO, website development, photography and video. Prior to founding CommunicationsMatch, Locke held senior corporate communications roles at Prudential Financial, Morgan Stanley, and Deutsche Bank and founded communications consultancies.