Let’s say you’ve determined that you want to hire a public relations consultant or firm to handle publicizing and promoting your business to the media, trade press, and key audience. You will discover that many large, medium, and small PR agencies operate in your region, as well as a good number of consultants who work independently to serve businesses in your industry. Once you identify the agency or individual with the right fit for your company, how do you and your public relations adviser work together to produce the best results?
Consider these tips:
1. Time is money. A good PR representative will keep detailed records of how they spend their time on each account. Clients receive frequent updates detailing the PR efforts made on their behalf and the results achieved, separate from the monthly invoice.
2. Be sure the right person is representing you. Many PR agencies do the bait-and-switch when pitching new accounts. They send in the big dogs to nail down the new account. Once it’s landed, they pass off the day-to-day work to account executives, who may not have the expertise you expect.
3. Study your invoice. You should receive a detailed list of the hours spent and efforts made on your behalf, whether the time has been spent on event planning, community relations efforts, internal communications, publications, marketing or promotional materials or media relations. You should know the hourly rates you are paying as well as the project-based or monthly retainer fees. Note that the agency’s senior staff will have higher hourly rates than the rest of the team.
4. Expect a strategic communications plan. The best public relations efforts aren’t a series of hit-andmiss media placements. To get the best bang for your buck, it pays to begin with a thoughtful analysis of communications goals and ends with a strategic quarterly or yearlong plan of action. All aspects of PR can be included, or the plan can focus on specific areas. Expected costs, necessary time requirements and anticipated results should be included; these will fluctuate and will be updated accordingly.
5. Make PR part of your leadership team. The best public relations professionals insist that strategic communicators be seated at the table alongside the CEO, COO, senior VPs and other decision-makers. This ensures that in a crisis, during a negotiation, or in anticipation of a big deal, the company issues timely, well-reasoned communications to key audiences. A good PR representative anticipates troublesome issues and works with leadership on the best course of action, including averting potential problem areas.
6. Determine that your PR representative knows the score. When it comes to your company’s strategic communications, sound judgment and critical thinking are as important as expert knowledge of your field and brand. Be sure that the people working on our account have the right knowledge and background to handle your work in a sophisticated and efficient manner.
7. Demand qualitative research. Time-consuming, expensive quantitative research is useful, but often a handful of phone calls to the right people or a communications audit can set the course for your project’s direction.
8. Expect reasonable and effective results. Firms in different businesses measure PR performance in various ways. Some look for higher sales or bigger profits, increased traffic at business locations or events, increased market share, publicity obtained online and in print, or passage of legislation. It’s difficult to accurately measure the effectiveness of a public relations program by itself, of course, because the best plans are integrated with a company’s advertising and marketing efforts. In general, a good PR professional will be able to procure several media placements of decent size each year in large publications or electronic media outlets, as well as handling the day-to-day personnel and product announcements. The big-picture public relations strategic advice to the company leadership is harder to measure but is perhaps the best service the PR professional can offer. And, the crisis averted by a good PR team may be the most valuable but least-visible of all.
9. Anticipate an ongoing commitment. Good communications in support of trusted brands require dedicated strategic efforts on a long-term basis. Just as your business wasn’t born overnight and probably took some time to be successful, so will a well-developed public relations effort. Any PR agency can score a few high-profile media placements, but a sound, long-term strategy is necessary for ongoing, successful communications.
10. Periodically review the team. You will want to develop a long-term relationship with your PR representative, but you must also keep your eye on the bottom line to ensure that your best interests continue to be served over the long haul.
Working closely with a public relations consultant or team can be a rewarding experience both in terms of your company's profits and your own professional development. Utilizing these tips, you can develop a mutually satisfying relationship with your PR representative based on respect, close communications, and shared goals. Ultimately the results of your partnership may pleasantly surprise you.