So you’ve decided to take some sage advice from business greats like Bill Gates and Richard Branson – who are strong believers in the power of communication – and appoint a PR agency. But before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you bear these tips in mind:

1)    Research

It’s important that the agency you choose does its homework on your target market, but it’s equally important that you do yours.

When asking agencies to tender for your business, whittle down your favourites so that you have no more than three agencies who formally pitch. Not only will the agencies thank you for it, but they’ll also invest more time in a sensible proposal. Too many agencies pitching sends a red flag that the pitch isn’t worth the time and effort because the process isn’t being taken seriously enough.

If you’re targeting a B2B market, an agency with expertise in corporate communications would be a better fit than a household name in consumer PR, because the campaigns and tactics employed will be very different.

Similarly, if your product or service falls into a niche area, an agency that specialises in this niche will understand the idiosyncrasies and language, and will not require extensive background information to hit the ground running.

2)    The brief

Be really clear about your objectives and budget. What is your product or service? Who is your target customer? Who are your competitors? Is there a timescale to any launches?

All of these questions will help a PR agency understand what you are trying to achieve and therefore tailor their proposal to your objectives.

The PRCA has some good guidelines on putting together a pitch brief here.

3)    The pitch

Who is pitching? Is it the most senior person at the agency?

I’ve heard businesses complain a number of times that, at past agencies, the most senior person pitched to them, but once contracts were signed, the work was handed over to the most junior person in the team. Ask the question at the pitch stage to ascertain who will be running your account then there will be no surprises.

However, I would add a caveat to this. If the agency is a small, it might not be possible for you to meet the entire team at the pitch stage, so it is important to make this distinction.

Chemistry is also important, as you need to trust that the PR agency and people working on your account know your market and your product or service. Meeting the account lead is always a good idea.

4)    Retention rate

Word of mouth is probably the best recommendation you can rely on. However, if that’s not available then find out about their retention rate and the reason that clients left the agency. And do consider everything on balance. If the agency has lots of clients who would happily recommend them, but one that didn’t work out, by all means find out why, but take everything in context. It would be unfair to discount them as a result of one client vs. numerous happy clients.

5)    The perils of PR for your ego

Be realistic about your goals. Everyone would like to see their name in the national papers and glossy magazines, but if this audience isn’t going to be ultimately buying your product or service, then your targeting might need to be re-planned.

If an agency starts throwing around the names of national publications or journalists in such a way, but it wouldn’t be your core market, either your brief didn’t convey your product or service particularly well, or the agency doesn’t understand your market.

Although this isn’t an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts, hopefully this will steer you to making the right choice for your business.

One final word; once you have chosen your agency, trust their instincts. You’ll get far more from them if you listen to their advice and proposal for your campaign, especially as they will have significantly more experience working with the press. If you don’t trust that they know what they are doing, it begs the question, why did you hire them?

Karolina Throssell