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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

4 Things to Know Before Hiring a PR Agency

Your company is up and running, and you’re (finally!) ready to share your brand’s story beyond your grandma’s kitchen table. Or, you’ve already begun to promote your brand but found that pitching, scheduling, and tracking media hits—not to mention responding to some of those tricky journalist questions—is a bigger undertaking than you first thought.

At which point, it’s probably time to call in the professionals. PR agencies can be a fantastic resource for budding entrepreneurs—it’s their job to be plugged in to the media outlets, journalists, and industry influencers that you want to get in front of, and they can help navigate the many nuances that exist in the world of promotion.

But before you start signing monthly retainers, keep these four things in mind to make sure you’re placing your brand into the most capable hands.

1. Quantity Over Quality

One of the biggest misconceptions about promoting yourself or your brand is that more equals better. Not the case! When it comes to sharing your story with media outlets, you want to focus on securing mentions and interviews with the ones that will not only provide the largest audience, but that speak best to your target audience.

For example, three stories in the “Automobile” section of the New York Times is not going to do you much good if you own a restaurant. Similarly, even a small story in the New York Times “Dining Section” will likely give you more traction than four stories by regional food bloggers. A good PR person will work with you to secure meaningful interviews for your brand—not woo you with lots of media hits that have little impact on your bottom line.

2. Who is the Team?

This is important: Since PR agencies usually deploy small teams for each client, you will likely be working with several people. So first, find out who will be your main point of contact (you’ll want just one in order to streamline the communications process). You’ll also want at least one industry expert on your team who has strong relationships with the journalists and influencers you’re targeting. Someone might have have great contacts at CNBC, but if you’re trying to reach the Today Show, that’s not going to be helpful.

Finally, understand the writing and social media resources available to you. Since these are two important pieces of successful PR campaigns, you want to know that you’ll be getting the best press releases, messaging documents, and tweeting support, not just introductions to media outlets.

3. Measuring Success

When you ask, “How will we measure success?” you’re looking for one answer: analytics. Your PR agency should provide you with some combination of daily, weekly, and monthly media reports that provide a comprehensive overview of how media outlets are covering your brand and your industry. End of story.

4. Payment

For overall PR help, it is likely that you will be charged a monthly retainer for a certain number of hours. This is industry standard, but before agreeing to a fee, understand how those hours will be used, how they will be tracked, and what the charges are for going over. You don’t want to get three-quarters of the way through a media campaign, only to learn that you’ll be charged double for the agency to complete the project.

And once you start working together, ask to see how many hours are used each week so you can plan your efforts accordingly. (For example, if you have an interview booked, maybe you don’t need all four team members to escort you.)

Remember that the larger PR agencies will always be more expensive, so do include smaller boutique agencies in your overall search. And here’s the PR secret no agency will ever spill: No PR person can 100% guarantee a media hit. They may have fantastic journalist relationships and the best pitching skills around, but there are other factors that affect securing interviews (like breaking news) that even the best publicists can’t control. If you meet with an agency that swears up and down that they can get you on Ellen, beware.

Photo of PR agency courtesy of Shutterstock.