Finding the best PR agency to suit your specific goals and needs can be an overwhelming task, but fret not.
We had the pleasure of putting together a podcast with Crosby Noricks, Founder & Director of PR Couture, where we talk about all the do’s and dont’s of choosing a PR agency.
You can download the podcast for free but here we lay it out for you so that you have a checklist to guide you from start to finish.
Hope you find it useful!
In this article you’ll learn…
What to think about before finding a PR agency:
- Find out what you want to accomplish. Be clear about your goals. You don’t need to know exactly how everything is going to work out but define your expectations and what success looks like to you
- Is everyone in the company on board with making it a priority? Make sure your in-house communication is clear and that you have a plan in place for making the most of any press opportunity
- What is your story, core values, and who is your target audience? An agency can help you further develop these later but make sure you have the foundation figured out. Have a vision!
- Think about things such as samples. You’ll need to have a budget for sending out samples, if you are offering anything physical, to press, media, or influential people. This is so important because it allows them to experience your product first hand.
- Be ready to invest in powerful imagery, for social media and elsewhere. It can really speed up the process and make getting coverage easier if you already have beautiful pictures that show what you’re offering and tells a story that’s aligned with the brand.
Now that you’re all clear on the things listed above, let’s move on to the next step of the process…
What type of PR agency are you looking for?
Crosby compares looking for a PR agency with looking for “the one”.
What you’re in the end trying to figure out is: is there a future here and are we compatible?
Here are some things you should be looking for in an agency:
- Vertical expertise: make sure the agency has experience in your particular industry and has successfully worked with similar brands in the past.
- Cultural alignment: do you feel comfortable with this agency representing you out into the world? Make sure you have similar values.
- “Walk the talk”: It’s easy to make big promises but can they deliver? Try taking a look at how they manage their own brand and social media – are they practising what they preach?
- The inner yes: What does it feel like? Your gut will often tell you if you’ll be a good fit for each other and if you’ve done your research properly then there should be no problem with checking in with how you actually feel about working with these people.
Let’s quickly touch on a few things you should be watching out for and steering clear of in your search for the right PR agency for you.
- Placement & sales guarantees: Off the bat, they promise you features here and there and says it’s for sure going to be in Vogue’s next issue or featured by the Kardashians. In the real world it doesn’t work like that, things come up and a good PR agency knows this. Therefore they should never guarantee you anything like that. What they should do on the other hand is to show a track record with past examples.
- No custom proposal: If you ask for more in-depth information about what they could do for your brand in particular, and they send you a standard list of services without going into detail, they might not be fully invested in you. You’ll be making a financial investment in this agency so they should put in the time to build a customized proposal for you.
3 things you can do to increase success:
Prioritizing PR opportunities.
Providing brand materials, photography and samples.
Abiding your PR teams suggestions to increase media interest.
Now you know what to look for and what to steer clear of. Let’s move on to the next step.
The process of finding a PR agency.
There are many ways to find a great agency that will suit your needs. The most common way is through referrals. Take a look at brands you find inspirational, or aspire to be like, and find out which agency they work with.
There are also online resources available. For example, PR Couture has a directory for agencies. The Holmes and Odwyers’ PR reports are also great resources to look at, as well as websites like 10 Best PR.
Finally, organisations like PR Net is a great place to look if you’re in the lifestyle sector, while PR Boutiques International is great if you’re looking for a smaller boutique agency.
After the initial research process is over, you should have created a prospect list.
Get in touch
Once you’ve done your research and created a list of prospects, it’s time to reach out and get a conversation going to find out if you’re right for each other. This is your time to communicate everything we’ve covered such as goals, what success looks like for you and what internal capabilities you have in terms of samples, photography and individuals. Be honest about your current challenges. Now is also the time to find common ground when it comes to cost and budget. Leaving things unclear could potentially lead to lost time and resources for both you and the agency so you want to have at least an overview of things.
After you’ve found common grounds and have talked about all the pro’s and con’s, you can expect a proposal or a pitch presentation from the agency.
Here are some things that you’ll want to keep an eye out for in terms of what should be included in the pitch. If you can check most of the following boxes, you’re most likely dealing with a professional and experienced agency.
- Agency approach: They should share some information about themselves and their approach. Do they demonstrate that they know who you are as a brand and that they understand your vertical? Have a look at their past work and find out if they know your target audience and how to best reach them.
- A few ideas: Don’t expect a complete action plan where they share all their best ideas. There is a chance that a brand will just say “great, we’ll just do that ourselves” so it’s understandable if they don’t share everything with you. You should, however, have some ideas and creative campaign directions presented to you.
- Experience: Can they show you examples of previous campaigns they have done that had success similar to what you’re looking for? It might be that they have put together a case study or some other content to show you past successes. Allow them to share details and be transparent.
- Budget ranges: You’ve probably already had some form of discussion about budget but this is the time where they can show you different ranges and what they can perform depending on what retainer amount you decide upon. Retainers are usually based on hours worked which means, the more hours, the quicker stuff gets done.
5 things to ask
You shouldn’t feel nervous about this chat but rather view it as an opportunity to ask some important questions. Here are some suggestions:
- “May we speak to a current and former client?” Just like if you were hiring an employee, asking for references is a good idea. Reach out to them and ask what their experience has been like working with this agency.
- “Who are the people that will be actively working on my account, and may we meet them?” Ideally you want the people that have been working on your pitch to actually be the people you’ll be working with in the future. Connect with the people you’ll be working closely with and get to know them.
- “May we see an example of client reporting?” A great agency will have a really great reporting process. Do they do quarterly KPI reports? Are they going to send you a monthly media coverage report? Ask to see some examples so you’ll know what to expect. They might not, for obvious legal reasons, be able to show you another client’s full report, but at least give you an idea of what the reporting will look like.
- “How can we help you?” This is a great question because it allows you to “help them help you”. Do they need samples of products, to perhaps come and see your production process or talk to certain people within the company? It opens up a great opportunity for you to understand in what ways you can help each other succeed.
- “What is a realistic timeframe to expect before seeing results?” The agency might not love this question but it’s still an important one to ask. Typically PR agencies require a 3-6 month ramp up time, depending on your brand, so hear what they have to say and keep it in mind when you set your expectations. It doesn’t mean you won’t see any results for the first six months, it’s just that PR value takes time to build up.
After this honest conversation, hopefully you will be on the same page and have all the information needed to make your decision.
How much is it going to cost?
This is going to depend on a few different things that you’ll find listed below. All agencies are different but let’s go over some guidelines.
- Retainer vs. Project vs. A La Carte: A retainer is a flat fee you pay every month based on how many hours are put towards your account. Some agencies will rollover any unused hours while others won’t. If you’re just looking for help with a particular launch, campaign or event, a project might be for you. A project runs for a certain period of time and has a fixed fee. Some agencies offer a la carte options if you need something a bit specific or out of the ordinary, meaning they will customize something to suit your needs.
- Boutique vs. Bigger Agency (or Freelance): There can be advantages to working with a bigger agency, but it does usually come with a bigger price tag. A Boutique agency has fewer people, usually adopts a more hands-on approach, and the price can be a bit more accessible. In some cases you might not need a whole agency.If you’re just getting started or have a small specific need, a freelancer could be a good option for you.
- Additional cost: As mentioned earlier, there will be other costs and it’s important that you budget for things such as samples, travel, photography and shipping. These things aren’t necessarily covered under the retainer amount but are considered additional costs that you will get billed for or will have to take care of yourself.
- Minimum spend: Crosby says in the podcast that most boutique agencies have around a $2500 minimum spend. For freelancers, that minimum is typically around $1500. It all depends, of course, but this is the amount you should at least expect if you want good talent working on your PR.
- Negotiate: Don’t let the initial number scare you but rather, if you feel it’s out of your reach, have a conversation about it. Sometimes there are ways to be flexible and you might be able to find a solution. Feel free to negotiate but keep in mind that you do get what you pay for.
Let’s sum it up and go over the 3 key takeaways:
You’re looking for a business partner, not just “an agency”.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Expect to invest 3-6 months before seeing real results.
If you want to hear the Q&A part of this topic that includes what to expect for the first and second month and how you can make sure you’re a priority among other clients is discussed, you can listen to it here.