You’ve hired or in are in the process of hiring a PR agency. There is ample justification for doing so and you have a good sense of what you want to achieve. You even have a written brief that thoroughly explains the job required so everyone concerned is clear.
But – and this feels like a big but – you don’t really know what good looks like. PR is not your own area of expertise and you’ve never worked with a PR agency before. What basic return should you expect for your investment and how will you know you are getting a good service?
You’re not alone in asking yourself this. Your questions are legitimate. PR is an art, not a science, which makes it challenging to evaluate, but that doesn’t mean PR agencies can’t be held to account or that you should feel out of control.
Here are some good questions to ask your PR agency:
1. What am I paying for?
This is important to establish upfront. The vast majority of PR agencies charge for the time they spend working on your project or campaign, but others may charge for results. There are pros and cons to both (PR coverage can never be guaranteed – if you want guaranteed coverage you should hire an ad agency), but you should be clear from the outset what you will be paying for.
2. How will you account for your efforts / work / time spent?
It is standard practice for agencies to report on their work, but the quality can vary greatly. As well as being sent the fruits of their labour, you may want to see a breakdown of exactly how your money is being spent each month. No matter the response, this is not an unreasonable request to make.
3. How much time would you expect it to take you to do XYZ?
If your agency charges you for their time, then you might like to get a sense upfront of how long they would expect something standard to take. For example, you could ask how long it typically takes them to write a press release, pitch a typical story to your target journalists or draft a blog post. That way you’ll have a benchmark.
4. How flexible is your billing model?
If you run a small business then seasonal cashflow may be a factor. It is worth asking your agency how flexible they are prepared to be for longer-term arrangements. Do you need to commit to a set amount each month, or can you flex with your business needs? How much notice do you need to give them of a change to your available budget?
5. How long will it take for me to see results?
A PR professional is unlikely to commit to exactly when you’ll be the headline feature of your favourite trade magazine, but asking the question will focus the mind. You should expect a reasonable guestimate to your sensible question.
6. What does good look like?
A great question for any supplier – asking what good looks like from the start will set your expectations and can also be used to hold your agency to account further along the line. If you are canvassing several agencies then this is one to compare, but be mindful of the ‘too good to be true’ response.
7. What does failure look like?
Naturally you don’t want to put thoughts of failure in the minds of your team, but it is interesting to know what a PR professional would consider a PR effort that hasn’t worked. Don’t be scared by this either – you cannot guarantee exact PR results, but it’s the willingness to learn and pivot that you’re looking for.
8. What have you achieved for similar briefs from similar companies?
Ask to see what PR agencies call ‘case studies’. Specify that you would like relevant examples of similar projects to yours. Get them to share the topline brief, what they did and what the outcome was. This will give you a sense of what you can expect.
9. What are the credentials of your team?
A PR agency is only as good as they people it hires, so it’s worth asking about the credentials of the team. You might like to know where they were trained, where they previously worked and what they consider to be their biggest professional success to date.
10. How will PR directly and positively impact my business?
This is the killer question and gets to the heart of what PR can (or cannot) achieve. Spending money for an agency to generate PR for PR’s sake is a true waste of your investment. Ask what PR will actually achieve for your business. You may not be able to guarantee 10,000 downloads of your new app, but you should be impressed with the answer nonetheless.
If you are in any doubt about your ability to assess whether the answers you get to these questions are good enough, then go with your gut feel. The most important thing about a PR agency appointment is the relationship with the team. If you warm to them and feel there is a good level of transparency established, then you’re likely to be on to a good thing.
It is fundamental that you work together with your agency to make the relationship a success and see return for your investment. Good PR is a group effort, not a one-way street, and a collaborative approach will always win out. Never forget, however, that a high-quality agency will not only expect, but value, being held to account.