How to get the most from your PR agency

Written by Nate Hendley

Do you realize just how valuable publicity is to your firm? It gets your name into the minds of consumers and, compared to paid advertising, can offer great bang for your buck.

But when hiring an agency, it pays to do your homework. Otherwise, you could end up with publicists who know nothing about your industry and can’t work well on your budget.

Here’s what you should do before hiring an agency:

Know your budget

Figure out much you can afford to spend per year on publicity. “You’ll likely have to budget for at least $50,000 per year if you want to hire a big, well-known PR agency,” says Ken Chiu, president of Toronto-based Icebreaker Public Relations. And that’s low-balling it. Smaller agencies will charge about $2,000 to $3,000 a month.

Know — and manage — your expectations

Mapping out your entire media plan in advance is not vital. In fact, most PR agencies will be happy to plot a detailed strategy for you.

That said, have a rough idea of what you want before contacting a firm, says Chiu. Are you fully expecting headlines in a major newspaper, or were you thinking more along the lines of being quoted as an expert source in niche trade publications?

And before you decide, be realistic: if your budget is relatively small and you don’t have anything particularly exciting to promote, you’re unlikely to be featured on the front page of a national daily.

Be critical of the agencies you meet

Obviously, some agencies will be better than others. It’s your job, then, to investigate the ones you meet. Look and listen for clues that indicate high quality. For example, a good PR company has solid media contacts and sends out a limited number of well-conceived and well-written press releases to generate publicity. A bad PR company, conversely, has shallow contacts among the media whom they flood with half-baked, sloppily written press releases about every conceivable subject (a great way to annoy journalists). Bad PR firms will try to get low-budget clients to spend all their cash on one splashy event in the hope that someone covers it.

It can, of course, be hard to detect these things. So to locate a good PR firm, ask around. Chiu recommends checking with businesses similar to yours or with your local chamber of commerce or board of trade.

Find an industry specialist

An agency that has done work in your field will be aware of the issues that affect your industry, and will have relationships with reporters who cover your industry. These factors will enormously increase your likelihood of receiving media coverage.

Be wary of slick presentations

When you meet, agencies are going to show you their best work. But you want to know what their average work is like, because it’s what you’re more likely to get.

If the agency presents something that catches your eye, ask whether the people who handled the project are still with the firm. PR agencies have notoriously high turnover rates. If the people who handled the project are still with the agency, then ask whether they can work for you.

Look for media training services

Generating media coverage is one thing. Being able to talk to the media is something else. Media training is a must, so it’s a bonus if you can find a PR firm that provides it.

Read other pointers on How To contribute to your business success!

© 2004 Nate Hendley

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