Hiring a PR agency is an important decision for any company, and executives should consider all aspects of the move carefully before pulling the trigger. There is a right time and a wrong time to seek PR support, and a right way and wrong way to do it. Keep these five tips in mind before spending the time and effort that goes into hiring a PR agency or consultant.
MAKE SURE YOU NEED PR HELP: Don’t hire PR help unless you have real, substantive news to disseminate that you are reasonably certain will generate coverage in media outlets frequented by your target audience. For example, if you are in a growth phase marked by new business wins and are creating breakthrough assets for your clients, then you should seek professional PR assistance in getting the word out. However, if the activity at your company has been static for a period of time then it’s not worth the investment to keep a PR specialist on board. Wait until your activity picks up and then seek help in publicizing your news.
DEFINE YOUR GOALS: What are your expectations and goals? What is the primary reason you believe you need PR help? Is it to generate new business, or to build your brand within your industry? Answering these questions truthfully is essential in determining whether you need PR support. PR pros often specialize in certain areas, so you need to clearly define what you need. Are you primarily seeking help with press relations and gaining media contacts? Or do you want to up your game by securing speaking opportunities at industry conferences? Or do you need help in ideating and writing so-called “thought leadership” articles that position you and your company as subject matter experts? Make sure you carefully consider what you really want and need before investing in a PR agency or specialist.
DO YOU HAVE REAL NEWS? Too frequently, companies believe that their projects and activities are newsworthy, but they nonetheless fail to generate news coverage. This is because while the work you create is important and interesting to you, it might not meet the criteria required by reporters and editors to warrant coverage. This is where a PR specialist can help. A good PR person has a keen sense of news and knows what will appeal to the press. This is part of their training.
CAN YOU AFFORD IT? Successful PR comes at a cost that is determined by the scope of work agreed upon between you and your PR professional. Most PR agencies and consultants prefer to receive a monthly retainer, which can range anywhere from $3,000 to 25K and beyond, and would include a wide range of services outlined in the SOW. The more services you want, the more it will cost. PR agencies invariably charge more than individual, freelance consultants, and big, national PR agencies like Weber Shandwick, Edelman, and Hill & Knowlton are the most expensive. PR practitioners can also be paid on a project basis, so if you only have one or two big pieces of news to disseminate or need some helping writing or editing materials for a one-time project, you should consider going that route.
WHO SHOULD YOU HIRE? There are basically three ways to go when you decide to hire PR help. You can hire either a PR agency, a solo PR practitioner/consultant, or an in-house PR professional. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.
- A PR agency will assign a team of their employees to your account. This is the case whether you hire a major, national agency (which will cost much more) or a smaller, boutique agency that specializes in your area of expertise. In each case, the team is often composed of inexperienced newcomers who are led by a veteran agency executive.
- Solo PR practitioners are often more experienced, have excellent media contacts and are less expensive than an agency. However, they are usually one-person operations, and their bandwidth is split between several clients. As a result, the time and attention they can give you is often more limited than an agency’s.
- In-house PR practitioners know your business better than any agency ever could because they are inside the company on a daily basis. They have much quicker access to the company’s top employees, which greatly speeds up the decision-making and approvals process. But you need to make sure you have enough news to keep an in-house PR person busy year-round. There is also a financial consideration: In addition to paying their salary, you also must provide a benefits package that is not required from an agency or solo PR practitioner.
Again, it all comes down to your particular needs. Have detailed discussions with your internal team before deciding which route to take, and then meet with several candidates to engage in comprehensive discussions about your requirements and their capabilities. Don’t rush the process. Make sure you feel comfortable with whoever you hire and make sure the chemistry between you is right. PR is an important investment and should receive all the careful planning, thought, and consideration that any major business decision requires.