10 ways to get the most out of a PR agency

Among clients and agencies alike, the horror-stories of “first ‘dates” between PR firms and business owners are legion – and legendary. 

Here are ten tips on getting the most out of meeting a PR exec.

1. Know what success looks like

If PR is the answer, what was the question? Before picking up a phone, make sure you know what agency success looks like. If it’s 15 per cent more leads, web-site traffic up 33 per cent or 50 per cent more retail footfall, spell it out. But if your outcome is a warm, fuzzy feeling about how a local paper feature might help, keep your cheque-book locked up. It will end in tears.

2. Get your team on the same page

You may be boss but does your team understand/share your vision for PR success? (Sadly most aren’t mind-readers). So before briefing anyone, hammer out a one or two-page standard spec with your sales chief and marketing manager. Set objectives and, above all, a budget. Many report this more valuable than the later campaign itself!

3. All things being equal, choose people you can work with

Marry in haste, repent at leisure, they say. You may love the creative, find the people fun but that’s not enough. Make sure the agency “get it” and are hungry and committed. Will they still be on the job when things aren’t working, it’s 7pm on a Friday night and the pub is calling? 

 4. Give them a wide-ranging, joined up brief

Few SMEs can afford specialists in every area (PR, advertising, online, collateral etc). If you want to lead with PR, give them full scope. If, for example, you conclude jointly that on/offline PR will only hit eight of ten top targets, don’t be horrified if you need to buy ad space for the last two. Old purists hate it but, in the academic trade, we call this “the new secularism”! 

5. Go for logic every time 

Ideas are only great if they deliver clearly defined needs. So the PR firm proposes a £10K hospitality event. Yes, you’ll enjoy it. Yes, they’ll look good. But how and why will it help bring in more punters? Be relentless. Every investment proposition (even light and fluffy ones) should identify return. 

6. Go for online depth

You need to have a presence across multiple platforms (from, say, flickr to foursquare). This can also maximise your community’s value to others. Agencies playing seriously in this space are to be prized. 

7. Do a few things well

Be realistic. £10-20K investment doesn’t buy the earth. So politely ignore firms promising its delivery. Look for campaigns which offer a few measurable activities – clearly articulated and tightly targeted. 

 8. Help them create news

Be realistic. We over-estimate our own news value. It’s vanity! So, unless your secret time warp is ready for launch, understand that most SME news needs re-packaging – even creating. Be sure you’re happy with this and check how they propose to do it. 

9. Time is of the essence

News opportunities always come with tough deadlines. Even the pigeon flying from the Battle of Waterloo knew that the Morning Advertiser closed at 6pm!  You and your PR need to live by those rules – however uncomfortable. It may mean stepping out of key meetings or interrupting golf-rounds to answer a few media questions. But it’s crucial to success. 

10. It’s your campaign

Stay on top of things. A single-page bullet point weekly report will suffice. But get one. Check it. And contribute. Remember it’s your campaign – not theirs.

Bill Nichols began his career in investor relations/public affairs with then FTSE 100 conglomerate Powell Duffryn. During the eighties, he was Sir Clive Sinclair’s head of publicity and was responsible for launching the ZX series of home computers, the world’s first pocket TV and the controversial Sinclair C5. He founded his own firm, Whiteoaks, in 1993. He joined Bucks New University as a senior lecturer in marketing in 2009. 

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