Whether you’re the CMO, director of communications, or communications manager at your company, at one point in your career (if you haven’t already) you will experience the process of hiring a PR agency. Because all the top business leaders know that a good PR agency can elevate your brand and help your company make its mark in the world. This is why it’s so imperative to ask the right questions to ensure you pick the right partner. Here’s a guide on how to effectively and efficiently run your agency search:
1. Ask your network. As in the rest of your professional (and personal) life, information means more when it comes from people you trust. The same is true when seeking information about PR agency reputations. You’ll feel more confident moving forward with interviews when the candidate firms come with a stamp of pre-approval from friends, business colleagues, VCs, partners, and other trusted associates.
2. Schedule introductory calls. A little verbal back-and-forth on the front end of an agency search can pay dividends for both you and the firm you’re considering. A brief chat can reveal promising areas of compatibility—or the lack thereof. Although you might not come away from an initial call with a clear picture of everything the PR team can do for you, the exchange may give them the raw material to come back and wow you with a more tailored proposal and pitch.
3. Create a clear, yet feasible Request for Proposals (RFP) with a reasonable deadline. There’s nothing harder for an agency than trying to put together a proposal with little to no direction… and turn it around in 24 hours. If you want to find the right partner, you need to ask the right questions. In your RFP, be sure to provide the following information to ensure the proposals you receive will give you a feel for the firm’s expertise and personality:
• Brief background on your company, communications objectives and top three to five competitors
• Timeline detailing your search process (i.e. when proposals are due, in-person pitches, agency selection,
agency start date. And try hard to stick to it to ensure the same team that pitches you is available for hire
• PR services – provide a high level overview of the services you’re seeking
• Selection criteria (relevant expertise, relationships with press and analysts, relevant acquisition/IPO experience, etc.)
• Provide budget, or budget range
• Specific questions for the agency to address in RFP (i.e. agency differentiators, successes and challenges in space, customer case studies, proposed team, measurement, etc.)
4. Invite no more than three agency finalists in to pitch. Not only is this a great way to meet the team, it gives your top three finalists an opportunity to showcase their creativity. Saving the creative ideas for the pitch (vs. including in a proposal) allows each agency to bring their ideas to life, gives you insight into how they develop a campaign strategy and provides them with an opportunity to demonstrate their creative thinking. Additionally, you’ll get a front row seat witnessing how they will sell to press, because they have to sell it to you.
5. Check references. Not following up on the references provided to you by the agency is, quite simply, leaving valuable information on the table. No one will be able to testify to the strengths, weaknesses, and other characteristics of an agency like their current or former clients. Small time investment, big payoffs.
6. Chemistry. Chemistry. Chemistry. As matchmakers all over the world can attest, chemistry is everything. There might be several agencies you deem qualified to conduct your PR strategy. But these are people you’ll potentially be working closely with for years on a daily basis. So pay attention to the chemistry between your team and theirs AND the chemistry among their own team; it can be the difference between a successful long-term partnership and one that never catches fire.
By taking these actions, you’ll greatly improve your chances of choosing an agency that’s right for you and then will hit the ground running on the first day of working together.