Finding Your Perfect PR Agency Match

18 01 2010

Guest post from Jessica Killenberg, VP – Account Services, Bianchi Public Relations, Inc.

Choosing a PR firm that is the right fit for your company – in terms of size, as well as experience – is crucial to the success of your PR program. Selecting a firm that is too large may mean higher fees, less attention and fewer results, while selecting a firm that is too small that can’t execute your program can doom you to inconsistent effort, stress and criticism.

To determine your true needs, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is my PR budget going to be? Be honest. You need to agree on a number (or at least a range) to help define the size and scope of your effort.
  • What am I trying to accomplish? Be specific. This will help you define the types of talent and experience you’ll need from your agency.
  • What PR firm capabilities will be most important to me? Be real. If most of the work you need is media relations, news release development and speech support, the fact that the agency has an impressive art department or financial relations section may not add much value for you.

Once you’ve outlined your parameters, you are better prepared to meet with potential PR agency matches. Seven key questions to ask your agency candidates include:

1. How big is your staff? For some clients, the proverbial one-man band works well, until that one man – or woman – gets sick, goes on vacation or decides to take another job. For many companies, a smaller agency with multiple staff members can offer the expertise, scale of economy and flexibility they need, without adding unnecessary overhead.

2. What kind of resources/infrastructure do you have in place? It’s important to know that the agency is large enough to have the resources in-house to get the job done efficiently and effectively. This would include back-office capabilities, such as a consistent billing/budget tracking system, IT infrastructure, online media directories and compatible software, as well as a full-time staff and a record of financial stability.

3. What’s your firm’s focus? If the firm offers PR, advertising, marketing communications and website development in-house, you have to decide if you really want a jack-of-all-trades or a specialist. If you’re looking specifically for PR and media relations, why pay for the overhead of the agency’s artist or web designer that you aren’t using? A good PR firm has relationships with other specialists and can help you find the right art studio or web design firm to fit your needs and budget, without burdening you with the overhead … or the limited style/capabilities … of the in-house guy.

4. How long have you been in business? Lots of small PR shops pop up when times get tough and former corporate PR people retire early and decide to become PR consultants. While such executives offer interesting experience, you want to make sure that their agency business is not just a stop-gap measure to sustain them until the next corporate job comes along. You want to deal with a PR firm principal that has a solid, stable track record. Ask your peers and the reporters who cover your industry for recommendations.

5. Who are your other clients? You want to make sure that they have experience in your industry – or an industry that faces similar challenges – and in your product/service segment, but that they do not work for any of your direct competitors. If your work is business-to-business and most of their clients’ work is business-to-consumer, you may want to probe a little deeper to make sure they understand the trends and issues that affect your business specifically and have the skill set to help you. 

6. How will my budget rank among those of your other clients? If your budget is substantially smaller than most of the agency’s clients, you may not get all the attention you want or deserve. Conversely, if you will be their largest client, they may not have the infrastructure or capacity to adequately handle your work.

7. Who will be on my account team? It’s important to know who the core members on your account will be and what their roles will be. While you want senior attention, you don’t want to waste your budget having the president of the firm handle the lowest level tasks. A good agency will maximize the impact of your budget by assigning different tasks to different staffer members at the appropriate level.

Once you’ve obtained answers to these questions, you’ll be able to make a more informed and more objective decision. Before deciding, though, ask yourself one final question: How’s your chemistry with the firm’s personnel? Make sure they have the energy level and the enthusiasm you’re looking for and, ultimately, that you will enjoy working with them.

Lessons They Don’t Teach in College

11 01 2010

Over the holiday break, a few students shared with me some of the things they were learning in their college courses. And, to tap my experience, they asked me about the things that aren’t taught in college.

Now, experience is said to be what you get when you make a mistake. So in some 30 years of working with more than 75 client organizations, I guess I’ve gained more than my share of “experience.”

Here are the first 10 lessons learned that came to mind from our discussions:

1. You can’t proofread your materials enough. Don’t trust your PC’s spell-check function, because it does not catch everything, especially when your typo spells another word. Have another set of eyes look it over.

2. If there’s a typo in your document, it’s going to be where it will do the most damage and/or cause the most embarrassment – such as in a phone number, the chairman’s name or the company’s name. Triple check those areas!

3. To go fast, start slow. Take the time to think something through before you act or respond. Otherwise, if you rush too quickly, you may end up spending a lot more time doing damage control and trying to dig yourself out of a hole.

4. Be very careful with your email messages. Take time to carefully consider your message – and assume that it will be shared with the world. Once you hit the “send” button, you’ve lost all control of its audience. An accidental click on “reply all” has torpedoed many careers.

5. Don’t forget the human touch. Be nice and treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Your mother was right – being nice doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it can make someone’s day. In the crush of daily business, we all welcome a little courtesy and warmth.

6. Maintain a positive attitude, so that people actually look forward to dealing with you. I once knew someone who found fault with everything. While his work was great, his toxic attitude made people hate his calls … and that cost him several opportunities.

7. Keep your word and do what you say you’re going to do … if not a little more. Make honesty and integrity your hallmarks. They lead to trust, and trust is everything in today’s world.

8. Keep a sense of humor. A laugh can break the ice, defuse an explosive situation, put someone at ease, relieve stress or help you to move beyond a problem.

9. Never disparage anyone, no matter how much they deserve it. I know, it’s hard. But the person you want to call an idiot will turn out to be the boss’s or client’s friend, nephew, sister-in-law, golfing partner, fraternity brother, etc. Trust me on this one!

10. Business is still all about relationships. Technology is great, when applied properly, but it’s no substitute for real relationships. Success today is not just what you know or who you know, it’s who knows – and trusts – you.

What lessons learned would you share with a student?


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