Hired a PR agency & all I got was a lousy T-shirt

by PR Coach on September 20, 2012

tips to hire the best PR agency

I hired a PR agency & all I got was a lousy T-shirt

Are you searching for a PR agency? Do you know where to start? I’ve got seven guidelines to help you make the right choice for a PR agency partner.

Today, many agencies offer a full complement of services in addition to traditional media relations. The best agencies also know social media, marketing, research and business management too.

Planning an agency cattle call?  Don’t do it. You need to design a smart process to follow.  What’s your experience working with a PR agency? Positive, negative or excruciating? Don’t make the same mistakes the second time around.

Time and again, clients and prospects share similar experience that’s best captured as “I hired a PR agency and all I got was this stupid T-shirt.”

Are Clients Happy with Agencies?

There’s not a lot of research available on agency-client relationships. What there is shows the need for improvement in how agencies work with clients.

In a recent Bulldog Reporter post, Kristen Jones reported “Research shows that 20-25% of all client-agency relationships fall apart within two years and 50% collapse within five years.”

A survey by CorpComms Magazine showed a lack of trust by clients in their PR agencies. 56% of UK PR agency managing directors believe they have an “open and honest relationship” with their clients.

Unfortunately, just 29% of clients trust their agencies “absolutely.” Talk about a disconnect.

Though it looked primarily at social PR agencies, this ZDNet study shared some valuable insight:

  • nearly 20% of clients said agency communications were not informative or timely
  • 40% were unsure results were on-message or supported corporate goals
  • only 38% of clients felt they got the results promised in the PR agency pitch
  • only 32% of clients felt their agency understood how PR must contribute to their core business strategy
  • finally, only 32% of clients were satisfied with their current PR agencies.

Clearly there are a lot of unhappy clients if you browse relevant social media forums talking about PR agencies. Not to say there aren’t also many successful, long time client-agency relationships.

PR agency pros will argue it’s all about expectations. Clients will usually counter that what matters most is value for money. That cuts both ways, starting with how a client chooses their agency partner.

As CEO of a PR firm, I learned early on that RFPs and credential cattle calls usually yielded two things: frustration with the process and the need to start fresh once we won the business.

On the client side, choosing a PR agency was usually a bewildering experience. Often, companies were hiring an agency because they had no internal PR capability. That usually meant a challenge in defining the client’s own needs and expectations.

This research shows that at the heart of every successful client – agency relationship are three simple guidelines: communication, results and meeting expectations. I’d add a fourth one: review progress frequently. With these fundamentals in place you’ll have a much more productive relationship.

How to Pick a PR Agency

Here are seven quick tips to help you choose your next PR agency partner:

  1. Set up a process: Design a fair process and follow it. The resources following will help you do exactly that.
  2. Do your research: Business colleagues, reporters, agency websites and media archives are excellent sources for leads and PR agency reputation. Membership and good standing in professional organizations is useful. Search PRSA or Council of PR Firms for agencies near you. Ask prospective agencies for a credentials package before creating a short list.
  3. Compare apples to apples: Interview no more than three or four agencies depending on the size of your business. Provide each with identical briefings, agendas and key questions you will discuss.
  4. Key questions to ask in the agency presentation: Do you have direct experience in my industry? Which team members will specifically service my business? How do you measure ROI? Are they listening? Is there chemistry, a “fit”? Were they prepared and had they done their research?
  5. Expectations: Discuss expectations openly. How will the agency and your organization measure results?
  6. Budget: Share your budget and terms. Good agencies can adapt programs accordingly.
  7. Ask for referrals & references: Check them carefully before making your final decision.

Hiring a PR agency shouldn’t be confusing. Nor should it be a painful process if you take a disciplined approach. There are many talented agencies and PR professionals  who thrive on delivering results for clients.

12 Resources to Help You Choose the Best PR Agency

The following resources will give you detailed search guidelines and great suggestions on creating a process to hire the best PR agency partner possible for a great return on your investment.

I’ll give the last word on agency-client relationships to an Ogilvy PR video that says the best clients are great partners, embrace change, have a shared sense of mission, believe in accountability through measurement and welcome creativity.

Best of luck your PR agency search. With a little preparation and by asking the right questions, you’ll get started on the right foot. And, you’ll get more than a T-shirt in return.

What’s your experience working with PR firms? Your comments are welcome below.

Our PR Library is loaded with tips and information on PR Agencies, PR Jobs and much more. We’ve also got weekly tips on the PR Coach blog, so don’t be shy, join us.

Author: Jeff Domansky

Photo/visual credit:  Wordle, CorpsComm, ZDNet