PR Partners

A guide to choosing your ideal PR partner

The old adage – rubbish in, rubbish out – usually refers to the world of technology, but it applies equally well when it comes to briefing your public relations and creative agencies.

Without a full considered brief, capturing key information needed to enable them to get on with the job, agencies are often left floundering and need to join the dots themselves when it comes to guessing what the client wants and expects.

And it’s those expectations that need to be started and then managed, says Nigel Charlesworth from The Smart Agency.

“We set out from the start the scope of the proposed campaign, the expected coverage, and measurement methodology and agree on the messages to be delivered. This means we both know where we stand and importantly what success will look like.”

Clearly, this approach makes evaluation easier and less open to fudging. But how do you go about selecting an agency and getting value from them?

Finding your ideal PR partner

– Read the public relations and marketing press and identify companies that are winning business in your sector. When an agency works with one of your competitors, there’s always the chance of conflicts of interest, but in principle, you should want to work with successful agencies winning accounts related to your business, and in the case of public sector clients, agencies handling similar issues and information campaigns. These agencies are more likely to understand the dynamics of your market and grasp the issues at hand.

– Find out who’s winning industry awards. PR Week runs its own awards and lists winners of the regional PRide awards, run by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).

– Visit the Public Relations Consultants Association and the CIPR websites. Both offer advice and tips to download as well as access to databases of consultancies.

An alternative is to use a selection company that will draw up a list of potential agencies based on your brief. They charge a fee but save on legwork. However, it may not be the ideal option for the smaller client with a limited budget or need for those with a honed brief and a good idea of the type of agency they are after.

Selecting your agency

• Do you select an agency that fits well with your own corporate culture or go with a funky, boutique-style agency? There are heaps of companies out there, so there’s likely to be one that will fit the bill. • Look out for a broad range of experience and skills. An agency that can manage sponsorship and demonstrate experience in media relations and event management might lead to more integrated plans.

• If you are on the lookout for a specialist in the areas of insurance, banking, FMCG or financial acquisitions for instance, then target your search accordingly and avoid the generalists. There’s no point hiring a red-hot consumer outfit adept at getting brands into the tabloids if your brief includes business-to-business.

• Ask for credentials and case studies relevant to your brief or that reflect your situation or problem. How quickly the agency responds to this request will give you an indication of what it would be like to work with them.

Chemistry meeting

  • Once you have drawn up a shortlist, received agency credentials and like what you have seen, ask to meet your favourites at their premises. This will give you an insight into their culture and how they work. Chose a neutral venue, if that feels more comfortable.
  • Listen to what they have to say about their business, what inspires them and what expertise and flair it can bring to your issue.
  • At this stage, they should be asking searching, intelligent questions designed to get to the heart of the issue. If not, think: why not?
  • Provide a brief
  • Once you have selected two or three agencies, provide a written brief.
  • Make sure your agency has all the information it needs including market research reports, business strategy and expectations of success.
  • Putting it down in writing focuses the mind, avoids confusion and corrects assumptions made by each party.
  • The brief should set out the budget, timescales and how your company wants to measure success.

The budget

  •   This thorny subject can be a major stumbling block to getting an accurate response to your carefully crafted brief.
  • Try to provide an indication of the investment you are making in communications. If the agency doesn’t have at least a broad outline of the budget, how can it design a project that fits the bill?
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for budget options to cover low, medium and optimum levels.
  • If you do have a firm budget in mind, don’t keep it to yourself. If it’s low, so be it. The agency will have to cut its cloth to design a plan to suit. Be aware that some companies operating with high-cost bases may have to decline the business.
  • Be realistic. If the brief includes a global or national campaign involving the full gamut of marketing services including advertising, website design, events, sponsorship etc. outlining a budget that matches the campaign aspirations will help the agency put forward a properly resourced proposal that delights.

The proposal

  • All the information you need (and more) should be included in the agency’s proposal. It should be tight, to the point and outline a fee structure.
  • The team assigned to the task should be listed, along with their experience and expertise.
  • Evaluation methods should be clearly set out in some detail along with regular reporting and monitoring processes.
  • Once you have examined the proposal, feel free to ask further questions or ask the agency to come in and present it.
  • Try to make a swift decision and then tell the lucky agency the good news. They are likely to firm up arrangements with a term of business letter or legal contract.

What your agency needs to know

As with all dealings with professional services, transparency and trust are needed from the outset. Your public relations agency needs to get an understanding of the urgent quick-fix issues right through to medium and long-term strategic concerns. They also need to know:

  • Who else in the company needs to be exposed to and bought into any proposed PR plans?
  • What’s the budget scope and are there any constraints?
  • Who will the agency report to on a daily basis and who holds the budget?

These are just a few of the questions your agency should be asking in an effort to clear up any potential misunderstandings from the start. Ultimately, this is a two-way process. If your agency delivers and meets your objectives, they win awards and you look good in the process. Getting it wrong on the outside makes this scenario so much less likely.