Hiring a PR agency? 9 questions every marketing manager should ask first

Before you sign a contract with any PR agency we highly recommend that you ask these nine questions first.  By asking the right questions upfront you are more likely to hire the right PR agency for your business, your relationship will last longer, and it will be a lot more rewarding. Asking these questions can help you evaluate whether you’re a good fit for each other.  If they can answer them to your satisfaction, snap them up!

1. How are we going to measure success?

Your agency should be keen to know what success looks like and be interested in your business – therefore, they should be asking lots of questions.  Understanding what success looks like is critical as you need to demonstrate the return on your investment.

Clear objectives and goals should be set for every campaign and you should be clear on how you’re going to measure success, but also what stretch goals you have.  Let’s say for example you want coverage, all coverage is not equal, so be clear on whether you want opinion pieces, editorial or just simply, company mentions, and in which publications.

2. Who is going to manage our account?

Often when you meet large PR agencies, they’ll wheel out their most impressive Account Directors, and perhaps even their CEO, depending on the size of your account.  You’ll receive a fancy pitch and feel like a million dollars.  But then…when you actually start working together, those people are nowhere to be seen, you get a junior managing the day to day business, and every call with your Account Director costs.  You may then regret your decision.

So, always ask these types of questions to understand who will be managing your account, and make sure you meet them all before you decide.

  • How many people will be working on my account?
  • What is the experience of the account team?
  • When will they be available to me?
  • Who will I be spending the most time with?
  • Who will be executing the work?

Now, size isn’t everything, in fact with a smaller account team you’ll be able to develop a much closer relationship with mutual understanding. The agency will get to know how you like to work best, and vice versa. That’s why the people who turn up when we pitch are the people you will be spending most of your time with! Find out more about our people here.

3. What is your speciality?

The purpose of this question is to establish the relevant experience of the PR agency to your specific industry or requirements.

How connected are they? You want to be certain that when you hire the agency they already have established relationships with the key journalists and editors in your specific sector. If they do, it means they clearly have experience of working with them, and know what specific content publications will and won’t accept. They will have intimate knowledge of the journalists likes and dislikes, and will be able to successfully pitch story ideas first time, every time.

Ultimately, the more specialised and experienced the agency is in your sector, the more successful they will be in delivering phenomenal results for your brand.

4. What do you need to know about my business before you can get started?

Here’s the thing. Your PR agency aren’t telepathic. Yes, you can choose an agency with specialised knowledge in your industry, but remember they need to get to know you, your business and your people. So, ask them what they need to know to get started.

Firstly, you’ll need to sign a non-disclosure agreement so that you can confidently share your company secrets – perhaps new product releases, changes of senior management or a merger/acquisition. If you want your PR agency to be proactive, you need to give them as much information as you would any new employee. This will take time. So, be prepared to answer lots of questions, and be prepared to be challenged. Great PR agencies challenge the status quo.

The investment you make in PR is not just financial, it requires your time to brief the PR agency and engage in planning and strategy sessions so that they can hit the ground running and the relationship is successful from the outset. This is why we have a three pronged approach to marketing, starting with research and planning.

5. Where do we fall in your client roster?

Knowing where you stand in terms of agency spend and production requirements compared to other clients is critical.

Do you want to be the top dog and be their most important client? Perhaps you do, perhaps you don’t.

What’s critical to understand is how important you are to the agency.  If you’re their smallest client, the reality is that you’ll probably get the most junior account team.  Remember, you want to ensure that the PR agency has time for your business. So, think carefully about the type of agency you want to work with, and where your business will fall into their priority list.

Hopefully, before you’ve even started the agency selection process, you’ve checked out their website for their client roster, and you’ve researched what’s happening in the news with their clients so you have a good understanding of their capability already. We’ve made it super easy for you to find our client roster, check out our case studies here.

6. Who are your references?

The hiring process is like hiring an employee. You wouldn’t hire anyone without asking for references. So, ask for them and make the time to call or email those references.  Also, ask for a reference of a client that no longer works with the PR agency.  You need to find out why they don’t work together anymore. Remember, you want to choose an agency with a proven track record of success and many other satisfied past clients. Also ask the questions that are important to you.

7. How often will I hear from you?

This may sound like a daft question. It’s not. You need to understand how the PR agency manages client communication and collaboration.

The reason is you want 90% of your budget being spent on real work, not project management or administration.  Not only that, as editorial placements can take months, you want to know what exactly your agency is working on.

What should you expect?

It’s normal to hear from your agency at least once a week, with a monthly report on placements secured and plans for the following month.  Not only that, do expect to hear from your agency when they’ve secured a new opportunity, or they’ve developed an innovative idea to move your brand forward. Not only that, you need to ensure that you’re still on track for success.

8. How much budget do I need to allocate to achieve my goals?

If you’ve never added PR to your marketing mix, we highly recommend starting with a six-month pilot project. This will ensure that your new PR agency can gain momentum and measure ROI effectively. Our experience is that a PR campaign needs to run for at least six months to gain any traction.

If you already have an existing PR budget, but you’re not happy with the results, then it’s a different conversation.  Let’s be honest, if you were happy with your PR results, you wouldn’t be reading this!  In this scenario we recommend full disclosure, be clear during the agency recruitment process your budget and more importantly, your expectations of what success looks like. Then, expect the PR agency to deliver a pitch and proposal based on your budget. If you want us to pitch our services, click here.

9. What if it all goes wrong?

Negative news happens. Everyone makes mistakes. A crisis is usually rooted in an act of god (rare); deliberate criminal act (uncommon); or human error (most usual) and has resulted in danger or financial damage to third parties and your brand.

How the crisis is handled will directly impact your customers, staff and bottom line.  You want an agency to be confident in crisis management so, ask for examples of what they’ve done and for whom.  They should be telling you how they can set up an emergency reactive press office and the strategies they would deploy to prevent, mitigate and manage negative news, should it occur.

If you’re facing a crisis, you need your PR agency to support you. Ask us how we’ve helped clients in these situations and what we could do for you.

Conclusion:

We hope the tips above help you as you decide which B2B PR agency to work with. Ultimately, you must:

  • feel comfortable that you’re in safe hands
  • like the team that’ll be representing you
  • feel confident that they’ll work with you to achieve the positive coverage you deserve

If you want our help to make your remarkable brand visible, valued and understood contact us here.  We love pitching our services to people like you.