By Dian Griesel, President of Dian Griesel International
Most businesses, products and people benefit immensely from positively framed, quality media exposure. A touch of “fame” or respectful recognition—whether within the editorial pages of magazines and newspapers or a variety of news show segments—can catapult a company into the minds of its desired partners and customers. More so, strategic media coverage can position management as the thought-leaders within their respective industry and as the “go-to source” for information, making them even more in-demand as other media outlets seek their expert commentary. Assuming a company, service or individual would benefit from broader awareness via media placements, it might be time to consider partnering with a public relations firm.
There are several factors to consider when selecting a public relations firm, as “public relations” is a very broad term. There are many services offered under the “PR” umbrella, including writing news releases, strategizing on message points, creating and designing corporate materials, news story placement, crisis planning and management, ghostwriting and creation of thought leader stories. PR professionals also offer expertise and know-how in the new world of social media, including blogging, website content, virtual sharing communities, placement of articles online and all media for social interaction, i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and more.
It is wise to spell out the specific results being sought from a public relations firm. Is it the goal to build a brand? Are messages targeted at businesses, partners, employees, investors, consumers, regulatory bodies or other groups? Has management or the business plan changed and does this need to be articulated and “sold”? Is a market being disrupted? Is there a David-and-Goliath challenge facing the company? Has a crisis arisen that needs a team of advocates? Does a reputation need to be managed? Is the company just seeking to be more widely known and better perceived? Do its leaders need to simplify complex science or technology for broader understanding? Does an online discussion about the company need to be managed? Do opinions need to be polled? Are citizenship or CSR issues being faced? Taking the time to think about the answers to these questions will better equip companies to find and interview the right communications firm.
Public relations firms are likely to specialize in certain core offerings. The size and needs of a company will determine whether there is one firm that suits all its needs or if more than one firm is necessary. For example, some firms may be greatly skilled at day-to-day public relations, but might recommend (or it just might be wise) to consult with a crisis-experienced firm, should such a need arise.
Firms that specialize in news placements should be able to produce plenty of quality placement clippings as reference to support their claims. Keep in mind—a firm boasting clips for a large-cap company or a celebrity may not be the best choice of a firm if someone is managing a smaller, lesser-known company. The skill set and connections necessary for launching an unknown person or company are much different than those required for touting a household name. Rarely do such skills or connections translate between status or market capitalization.
Firms that say they can “ghostwrite” and create “thought leaders” should be able to present many complicated, in-depth articles that support such claims. Writing in someone else’s “voice” is a unique talent.
Firms claiming to be “leading” anything—particularly in the new world of social media—should also be able to document plenty of proof as to what kinds of worldwide audiences they have been able to garner for both their own firms and those of their clients.
Before hiring any firm, determine:
- Is the firm experienced in the industry?
- Can it document strong placements from other clients in the field?
- Is it asking the right questions? Showing that it understands your objectives and needs?
- Are writing samples available?
- Are the pitch letters available that resulted in the story placements?
- If seeking social media and online help, does the leader of the firm have a strong online presence?
- Does it only talk about social media—or does it actually talk about which tools work and the strategies to use or not use, and why?
- When discussing the new buzzword “content”—are well-written articles available?
- What are the means of dissemination for the proposed content strategy? Is the destination highly trafficked?
- Is the assigned team process- and strategy-oriented? Or is a “bait and switch” being pulled?
- How does the agency document its work and results? What metrics can be used to measure success?
- Is there an out-clause in the contract if no results are seen?
- Is it willing to provide references?
- AND—do you like it?
Hire a PR firm for the skills needed. When working with a likeable company and a team—one that is delivering quality placements and also giving strong strategic advice and good counsel—stick with them! If the results being sought don’t materialize as promised within less than a couple of months—it is high time to move on. There are great agencies out there that take serious pride in their work and accomplishments for their clients. A company should find the one that fits its needs and delivers.