Once you have decided to engage a PR agency to support your communications-related needs, it’s crucial to identify an agency that presents the most value for your company. Here are some considerations to help with your evaluation.
First, consider and clearly define your company’s business objectives and expected deliverables. Are you launching a new product or service? Are you expanding into a new regional market or trying to increase your client base? Determine the ultimate goals for the PR agency before seeking one.
The best agencies will develop their recommendations and strategies based on a client’s unique business objectives. In other words, instead of struggling to figure out the best marketing strategy, communication plan or channels on your own, the agency’s team should have sufficient expertise to provide the guidance and counsel necessary to accomplish your objectives.
Select the agency that customises its proposal to your defined objectives and deliverables—not the agency that simply provides its rate card.
2. Focus and Experience
Look for an agency that understands your home and regional markets, and review the agency’s previous and/or existing clients. An agency that has handled other projects in your sector and is familiar with the optics of your market will offer deeper insights into what will and will not work for your company and its PR plan. Hit the ground running with your marketing communications strategy by finding the agency that already has expertise and experience in your home and regional markets.
3. Track Record
Plan an introductory meeting with a prospective PR agency to meet its team, gather an overview of its services and specialties, and review its experience and track record. Additionally, request the agency to describe some of its most successful projects. This will enable you to take note of case studies which have similar business objectives as yours, and how the agency developed marketing strategies to help advance the client’s agenda. This informal “background check” should give you a clearer picture of how the agency works—and the type of support it is likely to provide.
Word-of-mouth recommendations are still one of the most reliable form of advertisements. Ask trusted professionals within your industry if there are any PR agencies that have been particularly exceptional. Find out about the agency’s culture, dedication, flexibility, and its ability to deliver on what it promises.
5. Bigger is Not Always Better
As the saying goes, bigger is not always better. In other words, agencies with the most team members do not necessarily offer the highest-quality service. A smaller, but experienced boutique agency could actually provide quicker and more personalised support. Such agencies tend to give more regular, proactive updates and quality recommendations, and since the team is more closely knit, it can be easier to communicate with not only the person in charge of your account, but also his or her supervisor.
In my experience, most innovation-driven companies—especially from Silicon Valley—specifically work with boutique agencies, where they have received consistent and superior results from these agencies.
As part of any good governance, every company and every department must manage budget guidelines and limitations. However, do not let price be a key determinant of the agency selection process. While it is vital to ensure the agency’s fees align with your company’s budget, remember that you engage an agency for its experience and its team’s expertise.
In a recent post on TechCrunch, Danny Crichton wrote that the “right PR consultants can potentially get you traction that no one else can. The right sales consultants may lock in those critical early design customers that represent the difference between an orderly liquidation and a massive Series A. The right product marketing specialists or pricing experts may be what drives conversions and eliminates churn. And so as with all parts of innovation, it’s all about making the right investments in the right people and the right ideas.”
As with most business relationships, finding the right agency is also about finding the people that gel with YOU and key members of YOUR team. Remember that you will spend significant time communicating and dealing with the agency’s core account servicing team. It is critical that a strong working relationship with complementary working styles be established to maximise performance. Once again, take time to learn about the agency’s work culture and determine how it embraces and nurtures collaboration. Also, find out how the agency fosters innovation and proactive planning within its team to understand if the agency facilitates an innovative workplace.
Set internal targets and expectations that everyone agrees on, then communicate them at the onset to establish realistic goals. It is important to maintain an open line of communication between you and the agency. Remember, the agency is not part of your company; treat it as an extended arm of your department. Share relevant business updates, developments, and upcoming plans. Frequently communicate with the account manager to ensure she or he has all information necessary to meet their clearly defined goals.
These considerations should put you on the right track to selecting an appropriate agency. One final note:
At the end of every campaign, it’s important to calibrate and evaluate the project goals. Were they met? Have my business objectives been advanced? It’s essential to then review each side’s performance—what it did well, what can be improved—so that you can take the next project to a higher level, and determine more productive and cost-effective long-term marketing and communication strategies for your business.