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How to choose a PR agency

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For all intents and purposes, your PR agency is your public face to the working world, at least in a B2B sense. It’s the middle ground between you and the wider world and it exists to contextualise and communicate your successes and your offerings with the media, other agencies and the general public.

As the Public Relations Society of America puts it: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their public.” In the “everything all the time” world of today, that means subtly overlapping with marketing and working together to promote and expand your brand.

What does a PR agency do?

In essence, a PR agency handles the reputation of a business through owned, earned, and paid communications. Typically, PR handles messaging to the press and its main goals are brand awareness and reputation management. Of course, if you are a large enough business, you might conceivably have your own PR team but for smaller businesses, it often makes more logistic and financial sense to hire a specialist agency.

Of course, while marketing and PR have a lot in common, marketing is more about driving sales whereas PR is more about boosting reputation: Marketing is short term and PR is playing the long game. So, as you’re in it for the long haul, ensuring you partner with the right agency is of paramount importance.

Choosing the right PR agency

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Many of the most successful minds of the last 50 years (including Bill Gates and Richard Branson) have been on record extolling the virtues and importance of PR. When done right, PR delivers in a way that no other marketing can as it builds credibility, expands your network, and gets people talking about you.

That’s why choosing the right PR agency is so important. You want an agency that will not only help you in the present but grow you into the future. It’s a big opportunity but there are also very high stakes involved. With that in mind, here are the considerations you’ll want to make when shopping around for an agency that suits your business.

Make your objectives clear

Every agency or brand is going to have a different set of goals but whatever those goals might be, they should always be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Knowing what achievable goals you want to reach from the offset will reflect the kind of PR agency you want to work with.

For example, a small agency might want to go for a more general strategic communication agency whereas a brand primarily seeking media exposure might prefer to go for a PR agency that specialises in press communication.

Set a budget

Before you even start your proper research work, set a budget and consider how much you can afford and how much you’re willing to spend on PR. Look at your goals and align them with your budget and prioritise your goals.

Remember, if you are going the agency route you will be buying the time of good quality, experienced people. However, if a prospective agency appears much more interested in your PR budget than your business, alarm bells should be ringing.

Size doesn’t always matter

Don’t always assume that a larger agency will give you a better service. Larger agencies might have the name and the contacts, but they are often made up of several teams connected under one banner. You will most likely only ever be assigned one team so you won’t be getting any more significant advantages.

Also, a larger agency is less likely to treat you as a major priority. Even major brands are choosing boutique PR agencies in many cases. That being said, if you are working with a large legacy brand sometimes a safe pair of hands can mean everything.

Check their credentials

A PR agency is only as strong as its individual PR team members. Try not to look at it as hiring an agency but hiring a team of people with individual skills. PR requires many specialist skills - from knowing how to capture media and public attention to advising on communications strategies, amplifying engagement through social channels and managing the message in a crisis.

This is important as your business will be paying for that specialist knowledge and will rely on it to deliver the marketing results you need. So, ensure that the team you hire hold the highest PR credentials and are aware of the latest training and techniques to be able to advise you on the best communications strategy to support your business growth ambitions.

Don’t forget the onboarding process

The final step to hiring a PR agency is to go through the onboarding process with them. Figure out who your main point of contact is and discuss your communication goals. Ask questions like, "How often will we touch base?" or "How will we track the results of our work together?"

Every company is going to have a different way of working and a different culture to navigate. Even though it can be tempting to view a third-party PR agency as somehow separate from everyone else, they are still going to have to learn to work with you and work your way. So always spend a little time ensuring they understand what you’re all about.

Looking for a new PR agency? There are hundreds of PR agencies on Creativepool ready and waiting to help build your reputation.

Header image by One Black Bear

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