How to choose a PR firm

how to choose a PR firmIt’s quite common for growing small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to seek out favourable publicity as their business starts to gain traction. There are many ways of going about this but the most common approach is to engage a public relations (PR) firm. The thinking here is sound, as most SMEs realise that PR is not one of their core competencies, and they are far better to find a company that specialises in it. 

The next step of the process is the hard part: finding the right business to work with you. After all, if you’re going to engage in a long-term publicity cycle, far better to engage a business that in a lot of ways will be a ‘partner’. The reality is you won’t just be using them for good publicity but also to stop the bad things getting into the press. 

While the media landscape is changing, and social media is having more influence, it’s important to have a cohesive communication strategy across all your media platforms to ensure consistency in your message. 

Key questions you need to ask yourself

Before you start your search for PR firms, you need to ask yourself a few key questions:

1. What is it you are trying to achieve? One-off publicity hit? Continuous media coverage?

2. What is your budget?

3. What are your short, medium and long-term goals when it comes to being in the public domain?

4. Have you communicated the message to your staff? Do they know what the strategy is with the media? Are they prepared for the media to call? 

5. Have you prepared for the worst-case scenario? Your product doesn’t work or it breaks? You receive bad reviews for your service?

Furthermore, you need to understand how the media works – something as basic as the difference between advertorial and editorial. Advertorial is a paid ad that is presented in the form of an editorial but has been approved in full by the client. Editorial copy consists of an independent journalist writing a story where a client is quoted and he or she has no say in how the final article will appear. 

Tips for choosing a PR firm

When it comes to choosing a PR firm, it’s best to analyse the following:

1. Ensure that at least one, preferably two senior staff members, have worked in the media, that is, mainstream media such as a daily metropolitan newspaper, TV and/or radio.

2. Check that they have good media contacts and know who writes for what section or who covers the relevant area in TV/radio; who the key editors are and how to approach them. Make sure too that they understand what is newsworthy and what isn’t. A lot of PR firms do more damage by pitching stories to news editors that were never going to see the light of day and can make a senior editorial person wary of receiving anything else from that agency - thereby making your job of achieving good publicity even harder. 

3. Make sure the firm understands the market you compete in, your competitors and what they have been up to in the media space. 

4. PR firms should be aware of influential bloggers and social media sites where you can obtain free publicity purely through good reviews and recommendations. They also must understand social media and what strategy works for you. Sometimes this means no communication on certain products/services.  

5. Who will be looking after your account? This is a vital question to ask. Often PR firms will hand your account off to a junior who has no experience and often no idea of what they are doing. 

6. You need to ask who are their clients. This is important, as you may not want them working simultaneously for your direct competitors! 

7. Ask for references and check out the clients listed on their website to see what sort of publicity they have been getting recently. 

8. Remember, while attracting good publicity is probably one of the easier tasks for a PR firm, it’s important that they understand stakeholder engagement and issues management, which can build third party advocacy for your product or service thereby enhancing the value of your brand.  

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