How to Hire a PR Agency
By Tannette Johnson-Elie
Hiring a public relations firm can be a tough decision for small business owners and entrepreneurs with limited resources. Yet there’s value in PR for those that hire an agency that can deliver results at the right price.
In today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, building brand awareness is more critical than ever, and a successful PR campaign can help smaller companies accelerate growth and get an edge on their competitors.
While a professional public relations firm can help you land positive media placements, keep in mind that PR is not a panacea.
“The common misperception is that PR is going to solve all your business problems,” says Jeff Bentoff, president of Milwaukee-based Bentoff Communications, which offers public affairs and media relations services to businesses and non-profits.
“PR is one element of the business, but it can’t be at the exclusion of having a good product, providing a good service, attracting investors and hiring solid, loyal employees.”
PR may be just one aspect of business, yet it’s an important component that can bring “potential customers and stakeholders to your door,” says Bentoff, a former journalist who has done PR for top-elected officials and major corporations.
In other words, PR can be good for your bottom-line. All it takes is one good media placement to see an increase in sales. Because many small businesses have unique stories, they often are appealing to the media.
If you’re not telling your story, then you need PR. A good PR agency can help you develop your best message and reach the audience you need to in order to increase your company’s exposure and attract new customers.
Now that you’ve decided you need the services of a PR agency, how do you find a firm that will benefit your business? Here are some tips for you to consider:
Bigger is not always better
Don’t start with the large PR firms that may be too pricey if you’re a small outfit. Consider hiring a smaller, boutique PR agency that can do the job just as well and likely, at more affordable rates, says Kathy Gaillard, a Virginia-based PR consultant.
“Many people who are running smaller agencies come from those large agencies and can serve you just the same,” said Gaillard. “You want to hire someone you’re comfortable with. You don’t want to hire someone who doesn’t understand your business.”
Do your research
Before hiring a PR agency, check references and ask specifically what services the firm provided for them, whether it was effective in getting them press in the media, how long it took and whether the press helped their business.
“Do your homework,” says Gaillard. “Ask around and believe what you hear. The end goal is to hire someone you can work with over a long period of time.
Look for a well-formulated media relations strategy
Public relations is much more than just writing a press release and pitching a story to the media.
A competent PR agency should help you understand how the media works, what their needs are and which elements of your company’s story are newsworthy. The goal is to get meaningful media placement.
“Your story has to fit the paradigms of what a media outlet considers news,” says Bentoff. “The PR professional will help you get the most newsworthy element of your story to the media and increase your odds of success.”
Hire a firm that will measure results
It’s important to know how a PR agency will measure results so that as a small business owner you know whether you’re achieving your business objectives, and getting customers to buy products. Common metrics used to determine success include media placements, “likes” on a Facebook page, or increased traffic on a company’s website.
“Don’t just have people promise you everything and deliver nothing. Have a way to measure the success of your efforts,” Gaillard said.
Get a clear understanding of what’s required of you
Many small business CEOS think they can hand everything off to a PR firm while they focus on their daily operations. On the contrary, working with a PR firm will require some time commitment on your part as a small business owner. You may need to make yourself available for media interviews, provide guidance in developing your message and be regularly involved in social media and other aspects of your PR campaign, says Bentoff.
“PR requires time commitment and a willingness to learn on the part of the small business owner,” said Bentoff. “A PR firm will need ideas, participation and commitment from the small business owner for the PR effort to be a success.”