I have been inspired to write this post by the companies I work with that have found me after having a bad experience with a PR provider that had…well, bad experience!
It happens in PR more than other industries because it is relatively easy for people to set themselves up as a PR consultant or tack PR onto their offering when they are not really able to achieve the results you deserve. You just end up paying for the privilege of being their guinea pig and you come out feeling unsatisfied and out of pocket.
Or worse, there are PR agencies that are happy to take your cash but don’t have the resources to assign experienced people to your account – beware of agency oversubscribing!
They say you get what you pay for…not so with PR. You can easily end up paying full industry rates for a less than comprehensive service if you are not careful. So how should you avoid these pitfalls?
1. Ask your prospective provider to talk about your business, competitors and industry space. These are the people who are going to be selling your merits - you need to feel comfortable that they are immersed in what’s going on in your market space and have a firm grasp on what you do.
2. Ask for proof of their creativity. If they suggest that press releases and articles are the be all and end all, you might as well swap them out for a good copywriter and news distribution service and save yourselves a heap of cash! Ask them to bring examples of truly creative campaigns they have run on behalf of other clients (preferably in your market space) and to point to the parts that were unique, as well as demonstrate the results.
3. Find out their 5 best known client names and get an outline of what they achieved on their behalf.
4. Ask about retention rates – how long does the average client stay with them? If they have a habit of turning around clients every three months, this might warrant investigation.
5. Ask specifically what sets them apart from other providers – a PR provider with its finger on the pulse will have a good knowledge of what the others are doing and how they differentiate themselves. They will be proud to demonstrate their strengths.
6. Ask who will be involved in the account, what experience they have, and which parts of the campaign each person will manage. It’s no good meeting the account director in the pitch only to find they are nowhere to be found once the contract is signed.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have a spread of experience across your campaign (especially budget-wise) you don’t want to be charged account director hours for filling out report updates, for example. But it is also essential to know that someone with many years broad experience in conducting successful PR campaigns is steering your activities.
7. Look for a provider that is able to offer you a progressive vision of your PR going into the future. If they present you with a multi-phase strategic plan that integrates nicely with your marketing roadmap and includes milestones for working towards long term goals that make sense to you, you’re getting there! Be wary of PR consultants that are only able to respond to your immediate needs.
8. Ask for references – ideally you will be able to contact them directly, as opposed to the agency simply offering you a document that puts a client’s name to a couple of nice sentences about them. The best scenario is one in which you are able to put your own questions to the references provided.
9. Find out how your agency invoices. If they are recommending an all inclusive monthly retainer for example, clarify (and don’t be afraid to negotiate) exactly what that means. Find out whether there is flexibility built in, for example ‘if I am allocated one news release per month but I don’t have any news in February, can I roll that allocation over to another month?’
If you are entering into a ‘billing by hours’ agreement, ask them to estimate the hours associated with set activities in advance. Request some examples of typical monthly costs for other clients with similar PR requirements.
10. Last but not least, chat with them, take notes, compare and discuss. Basically take all the time you need to find out whether your PR consultant is the real deal and in doing so you will reduce the risk of throwing away money on poor performance.
Ask any successful agency, PR is founded largely on experience – it’s about having an in-depth understanding of how different aspects work. It’s also about having come across various situations before and using that experience to create new approaches. The more knowledge your consultant is able to bring to the table, the safer your investment in their recommended PR strategy will be.