How To Hire A PR Agency That Doesn’t Bite


Earlier this month SAI contributor Steve Blinn of Blinn PR offered a list of lies PR agents tell their clients; now he offers advice about how hire an agency least likely to fib to you. Steve offers more advice at his corporate blog.

Picking the perfect PR firm is like buying a puppy.

You can do lots of in-depth research, carefully narrow the field down to a few purebreds, mercilessly quiz and be quizzed by the owners of the kennel, then meet the litter and carefully decide which pup is perfectly suited to your needs. Or you can dash into the shelter, quickly survey what’s available, and pick the perkiest puppy.

Both methods work out just fine most of the time. The problems occur when you don’t know anything about puppies and what they’re supposed to do. Here are six steps that’ll help you pick a PR firm that doesn’t bite.

1) Define Your Needs

If you don’t know what you want your PR agency to do, chances are you’ll hire an agency that will do nothing but bill you. No legitimate PR firm is enthusiastic about working with a client who is clueless about his or her needs. We all know from bitter experience that such a client will eventually turn feral and blame the PR firm for not delivering concrete results.

So figure out if you want to drum up interest in a public offering, a leveraged buy-out, have someone handle the release of bad news, or raise the general visibility of your organisation. Put this information in a background document – it can be just a few pithy paragraphs – to share with the PR firms you’re considering working with. But wait — don’t press the send button yet…

2) Tell Me More

Apart from your PR goals, as mentioned above, it’s helpful to include your organisation’s history, mission and aim, issues or areas of potential concern, current or past communications efforts, and your budget in the backgrounder.

This doesn’t mean you have to devote hours into conjuring up a beautifully crafted document. Just lay out the facts. If you give me this information up front I’ll be able to prepare an information package or presentation specifically addressing your needs. Otherwise, we’ll have a lovely breakfast at the Coffee Shop and I’ll spend a couple of hours trying to draw this information out of you. Save us both the time and trouble and tell me clearly what you need up front. We can still have breakfast.

Here are links to a sample backgrounder and two RFPs

3) PR Pop Quiz

Now that you know what you want from your PR campaign, find a firm who can deliver it. You know the drill: Ask people you trust for recommendations and check with professional organisations. If you know any reporters who cover your industry ask them what PR people they like working with, and whose press releases consistently bore them to tears.

After identifying several firms that seem to fit your needs, send over your backgrounder information by email. Then get in touch with the firms whose responses impress you. If they say that they have a lot of experience in your industry, make sure there’s no conflict of interest – you really don’t want to be represented by the firm that reps your competitors. If all goes well, ask them to send over a capabilities package. This document should include general background on the firm, relevant experience, areas of expertise, bios of the people who would work on your account and any special skills or resources they may have such as, overseas offices.

4) Test the Chemistry

After reviewing your responses, select the two or three firms that best meet your criteria and schedule a “Get to Know You” meeting. During this meeting you’ll get a better feel for the PR firm’s credentials and how they relate to your goals, but you’ll also be able to gauge whether you can work with these people or not. Remember, these are the folks who are going to be your public face, the people who will be putting words into your mouth and shaping your image. You don’t have to love them, but if you can’t stand to sit next to them on a cross-country flight, if they make your allergies appear out of the blue– look for another firm.

5: The Song and Dance

All that remains is nailing down the details. Find out what reporting methods the firm uses (AKA: how they’ll tell you what they’ve done for you lately), how they measure success, and whether the senior management team who has been wooing you will actually be working on your account.

At this point, you may be treated to a two-hour dog and pony show on how the  firm will implement its plan to achieve your goals and objectives. Personally I think 60 minutes is plenty, but some people get all fired up when they hear the sound of their own voices. The more information you provided at the beginning of the process, the better and more concise plan you should expect to hear. If it all sounds spiffy to you, figure out the contract terms and sign.

6: Or Just Ignore All of The Above

If the idea of playing footsie with PR firms for hours on end makes you shiver with trepidation, cut right to the chase. Ask around for recommendations. E-mail a few likely candidates. Tell them what you want, what you want to spend, and ask them to tell you if they can make it happen —  and if so, how they plan to go about it. Review the responses and pick the firm that your gut tells you is the right fit.

Some of our clients chose our firm after a very careful vetting; others just seemed to know they wanted to work with us before we even had the chance to dazzle them with our golf game. Happily, it’s worked out well for all concerned — none of our clients have ever attempted to whack any of us over the head with a 4 iron.

Related: Top 10 Lies PR Agencies Tell Their Clients