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Choosing the Right PR Firm for Your Business

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For the same reasons they’re hired as experts, many companies decide to outsource their public relations function.It’s a proven fact that consistent branding and frequency of market messages translates directly into new business. But, how can you avoid wasted time and money by selecting the best PR agency right the first time?

Think of engaging a PR agency as you would think of hiring the right executive to move a major change management initiative forward. After all, the team that manages your public relations program will be an integral part of your business success - a trusted advisor and partner. Consider the agency’s subject matter expertise as well.PR agencies tend to be highly specialized, so an agency that works mostly in the travel and tourism industry will take months to understand Web 2.0 technology. And that translates into months of lost opportunities!

Consider these key questions when deciding which PR firm is best for your company:

1.Do They Have the Right Chemistry?

Think Match.com.Finding the right partner from the get-go is critical. The PR firm you select must share your organization’s values in order to be effective on your behalf. PR agency account managers have daily interaction with their clients, writing marketing plans, providing trade show support, conducting case studies and constructing customer success stories. Geographical location isn’t as important as the team’s maturity, integrity, vision and experience. Considering proximity as a key element in the selection process is very shortsighted, especially in today’s global environment when all you need is the Internet and a telephone to make media placements happen and analyst relationships grow.

2.Do They Have the Necessary Experience?

Schedule a meeting with each PR agency that you are considering – whether in-person or via teleconference, the purpose of each meeting is to assess the PR firm’s commitment, passion to excellence in your market sector and bench strength.Take into account what portion of the team is junior versus senior level. Seek to understand what types of clients they typically represent: emerging, mid-market or large enterprises – are they similar in nature to your company?

Next, make sure to find out who will be interacting with the media on your behalf? Do that person’s communications skills, personality and experience make them a suitable spokesperson for your organization? Is he or she the appropriate public-facing persona who can communicate your corporate message to your target audience? Bear in mind that not all news is good news - how would they articulate a crisis communications matter?

3.Can They Deliver What They Promise?

In your business, you know the importance of delivering on your promises.Any agency that you chose must also be able to deliver what they promise. How well do they know your offerings? How familiar are they with your target markets? Do they have established long-term relationships in the right trade publications?Do they have references you can check or samples of media placements they have made? Are they innovative in their messaging?Can they meet rigid deadlines despite what it takes?

4.Can You Establish and Measure Objectives?

To truly be successful, success must first be defined, then executed and then measured.You have to be able to communicate to the PR agency what you want, need and expect. Is it to increase sales? Is it to improve your brand definition? Is it to raise awareness for your global capabilities, latest alliance partner or newest line of business?

Remember, the end result is what’s important here. Make sure timeframes are clearly delineated and expectations are both communicated and measurable. Agree to periodic tracking sessions to monitor progress, assign new work and discuss issues.

5.Can They Go the Distance?

It takes a great deal of time and effort to establish and build a rapport with a PR firm, on both sides. Of all the tools in the marketing mix, this is not the place to employ the “here today, gone tomorrow” philosophy. The objective here is to foster a long-term relationship with your agency that – in turn – builds long-term relationships for your company. This doesn’t happen in six months; it takes time to gain momentum with the media and industry analysts to achieve desired outcomes.It’s never easier to churn through agency partners and bring in new ones unless all options have been exhausted.Changes make the press suspicious so it’s better to “measure twice and cut once” by vetting all issues during your agency selection process instead of “on-the-job.”

If you treat the selection of your PR firm in the same way you would treat the selection of that stellar high-performing executive who is going to take your business to the next level, you will be off to a good start. Loyalty, integrity, flexibility, experience and longevity – without these key ingredients, you can only hope for a half-baked PR agency/client relationship.