Good communications can make the difference between winning and losing. It can elevate small companies to the national stage. It can help businesses keep their noses clean in front of investors and the public. It can generate sales, leaving the competition in the dust. Clearly, it’s important, but many companies don’t have the internal resources to do it on their own.

That begs the question: How do you find a PR firm that can help you achieve your unique business goals in the most cost-effective way? Choosing a PR firm can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. There are so many firms out there: how do you know what to look for? Here are five questions that can help:

  1. What is the spectrum of services you provide? Many PR agencies do little more than media pitching, but public relations is so much more than just getting your company’s name in print. Last year, Arik Hanson wrote about the skills that the PR pro of the future should possess, and I argue that many of these skills are necessary today. When hiring PR experts, look for a full-spectrum communications agency. Seek a firm who knows digital PR, video, multimedia, graphics, social media, employee outreach, and crisis communications. A firm with well-rounded capabilities can promote your company more effectively than a simple media relations shop. Remember: the goal is to make your cash register ring. If the firms you interview don’t know how to integrate media relations into a larger communications strategy, move on to the next. And that’s a good segue into the next question you should ask…
  2. How do you evaluate results? Again, you shouldn’t seek an agency with short-sighted measurement goals. Media impressions and advertising equivalency alone do not move the needle on ROI. Those aren’t results; they’re metrics. You should only work with agencies that can tell the difference.
  3. How do you stay on top of trends? I recently blogged about the importance of being a ‘know-it-all’ (in the least annoying way, of course!). Agencies who have a clear pulse on emerging industry trends are flexible and adaptable. It’s likely that they’ll be more creative in their approach. Agencies that aren’t on the cutting-edge of new best practices or technology are more likely to stick with a traditional approach, which is becoming less-and-less effective. Your PR agency should be a team of trend-spotters. Rely on them to proactively identify ways for your company to leverage new trends. Remember you’re paying them to be on the lookout for new ideas and opportunities to benefit your organization.
  4. Can you provide a case study of one of your successful campaigns? This is your opportunity to hear how the agency defines results. It is crucial that your expectation of good results is in line with the agency’s. Also, this gives you the opportunity to see what kind of clients are on the agency’s roster. You’ll want to pay attention to whether they’ve worked with established brands, and if they have experience working with clients in your industry.
  5. Is there anything else you can help us with? To circle back to question #1, you should seek to hire a full-spectrum communications agency. You may be looking for help with media relations, but perhaps the agency can also help you produce video, develop graphics, write grants, execute events, write a crisis communication plan, or help manage your social media accounts. Your organization would surely find it more efficient to work with one partner to manage these disparate needs.

Here are a few other things to consider:

  • Seek a true communications partner, not just a vendor. When clients treat their PR agencies like vendors, it stifles results and can harm the relationship. Think of your communications consultant as an extension of your team. The team needs to know your industry and the details of your business in order to do their best, most creative work. Be willing to invest in the relationship and help them stay informed on what your company is doing.
  • Pay for strategy, not tactics. Companies who look for a PR firm to fill a tactical need are missing out. If you’re already paying a company to write press releases or create videos, why not leverage their creative, strategic thinking. We love to make you look good in front of your boss. Why not take advantage of additional brainpower to come up with strategies that support your company’s overall business goals?
  • You can’t be absent from the process. Companies hire PR firms to develop campaigns and provide strategic counsel. But firms also help ease a resource burden – to take over work that the internal team is too busy to do. Even though things might get busy, you still need to be involved. You can’t remove yourself completely from the process. Whether we need you to serve as a spokesperson, provide approval, keep us in the loop with what’s happening at your company, or to bounce an idea around, the results are always better when everyone participates.

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