I often talk to people who know they need publicity and want professional help to get it, but find and hiring PR agencies to be a confusing and daunting task.
That’s understandable. Public relations firms differ in a thousand ways, it seems. For one, they use different business models—some charge monthly retainer fees while others are pay-for-performance, meaning you pay only for actual media coverage. Firms also have a whole range of specialties, from crisis communications to public affairs to research and analysis. How can you possibly determine which is the right firm for you and your needs?
I shared some practical tips for doing just that in my book, Gaining the Publicity Edge: An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Growing Your Brand Through National Media Coverage. I know how valuable PR can be for building your brand, so it’s important to be an informed shopper.
If you’re considering hiring a PR firm for the first time, or you’ve hired one in the past and were unhappy with the experience, these tips should help.
Find a firm that has successfully dealt with clients in your industry
That firm will understand your industry’s idiosyncrasies, its jargon, and what it views as newsworthy. It won’t be trying to learn about your industry on your dollar, and it will already have relationships with relevant publications, blogs, and TV and radio shows. If you’re also an author, find a firm that works as well with book reviewers and book bloggers.
Hire a firm that specializes in the right media for you
Most PR firms specialize in print media (getting editorial coverage in newspapers and magazines, both online and offline), and many focus on social media. But your audience may be watching TV talk shows, or you may like the convenience and immediacy of podcasts and talk radio. The firm should be able to determine whether a particular medium is appropriate for your message and audience, and it should have a strong track record in gaining clients exposure in whichever media they will be using.
Ask to see sample campaigns
This is the only way to get a feel for the work they have done and the quality and quantity of coverage they may be able to obtain for you. Keep in mind that a number of variables influence the success of a campaign, and they’re not all within the firm’s control. Breaking news events are a good example. Still, this should give you a good idea of a firm’s track record.
Make sure you understand the fee structure
Many retainer firms add charges for actions they take on your behalf. So in addition to the monthly retainer, you can expect to be billed for materials they write for the press, or time spent on research, phone charges, copying, postage, etc. This can make it hard to plan your budget.
Try to find a firm whose fees are tied to performance
One of the reasons I chose to make my company a “pay-for-performance” model was to ensure clients would leave satisfied. For example, if they pay for 15 talk radio and podcast interviews, that’s what they get. And if we can’t get them all 15 in a predetermined amount of time, we will return the money for those we can’t schedule or compensate them another way. I prefer this approach over the retainer fee model, which can cost you thousands of dollars a month with no guarantee of results.
Keep in mind the most important thing is to find a company that you feel understands you and your message, and that you will be comfortable working with. They should be as enthusiastic as you are about promoting your company, product or book.
If your PR firm heartily supports your cause and performs like a real member of your team, you are both in for a truly rewarding experience.