So you’re ready to hire a PR agency – Here is our PR Client 101

Shelby TaylorPublic Relations (PR)

Once you’ve come to the conclusion that your business could benefit from the services of a Public Relations firm, your next task is to go about finding the right PR firm for you. Below are some of the most common questions we get from potential clients considering our publicity services.

What is a Realistic Timeframe to Expect Results?

Watch Timeframe

PR agencies want you to have a realistic timeline when forecasting results. When you hire an agency, you must keep lead times in mind so that the publicists can work as efficiently as possible according to your expectations.

The monthly print media (ie: glossy magazines) work on a 3-6 month lead time. You can’t go to a PR firm tomorrow, expecting them to get you into the magazines by next month. If you want to be in the Spring magazines, you need to start pitching those publications in October or November. In order to do this, you need to have your product samples and high res images ready for pitching.

Assuming you’ve approached the agency with the appropriate lead times and materials, it’s fair to expect monthly print coverage to begin after 4 months of service, weekly print or broadcast coverage to begin typically after 2 months of service, and daily print or digital media coverage to to start hitting by the end of the first month, depending how much development needed to go into your narrative. The more newsworthy a story is, the more quickly a PR team can secure coverage. Be mindful if selling your product’s story is an uphill battle.

Even more importantly, if you aren’t absolutely sure about what results you want to achieve then you’re not ready to hire PR just yet. You need to know what you’re looking to accomplish and when you want to achieve these goals, before you can expect PR to give you all the resources you need to get you there. For some clients, being in the New York Times is all that matters, for others, increasing followers on Instagram or growing the mailing list is more important. Clearly defining your PR goals will help the agency determine where they should focus their services.

Who Will My Point Person Be at the Agency? Should I Clarify this?

Before hiring a PR agency, make sure you have appointed a person on your team who will be responsible for communicating with the PR agency. An unorganized business will result in an unorganized campaign and few results. There needs to be set structure for how you will handle communicating with the PR agency so that any requests from them receive actionable results. In PR, opportunities often come up last minute, and you need to ensure you have the bandwidth and resources to capitalize on them.

On the agency side, before signing a contract it’s important to ask how they structure the team, and who your point person will be. Sometimes, you meet with the founder or principal partner in the initial meeting, only to find out that someone much more junior is going to be the person handling your day-to-day needs. A great structure is when the principal is involved in overseeing the strategy and results of a campaign, and a senior level team member is leading your account with support from other team members (and not just interns).  

Once the PR firm identifies who your point person will be, make sure there is a chemistry fit and that you feel confident in their ability to successfully lead your team and the project.

How do I know what type of Press Coverage I want to secure for my brand?

Press Coverage

There are a myriad of ways to communicate news, so it’s important to know where your audience lives. Is it print media, social media, digital media, broadcast, podcasts or mobile? If it’s print; is it monthly or daily publications? Beyond that, what subject matter resonates; is it business, men’s, women’s, lifestyle, etc? Once you define this, you can figure out the best PR strategy for reaching your target audience. With this information, the agency will be able to successfully increase awareness of your brand.

For example, if your product is organic skincare for babies, you would want to target parenting media (ie: Parents Magazine), “mommy bloggers” and “daddy bloggers,” and influencers on social media who have young babies and have a reputation for sharing information about safe, organic products for the family.  A business article in Entrepreneur Magazine might not be as relevant to you, unless you’re trying to attract potential investors to your brand. These are all factors that should be considered when setting your press coverage goals.

How Will the Agency Quantify PR Results?

Before hiring a top PR agency, you should be familiar with what results you’d like to achieve and know how to measure the progress of these results. For example, measurements can be made by observing sales, number of leads, clicks to your website or blog, newsletter sign-ups, the number of media impressions, UVPM (unique visitors per month) or the Earned Publicity Value.

In addition to quantitative data, you may also want to consider qualitative data like positive reviews and the sentiment of comments made on articles and social media.

If you’re looking to build awareness for your product, you need to know the number of leads and site visits the PR agency is generating. PR firms will use analytics tools that will allow them to provide you with these numbers so you can easily quantify the success of PR results. This is much more doable in the digital space, particularly if you’re selling your product online.

The agency can also provide influencers or media with unique coupon codes so that even things like print placements can be tracked for success.

You should set milestones for the goals you want to hit, commonly referred to as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and you should also clarify how often the Public Relations firm will be communicating their results, whether that’s daily, weekly, monthly, or at the end of the initial term.

How Can I be Confident I’m Choosing the Right PR Firm?

First, make sure the PR agency has some level of expertise in your field.  For example if you’re a beauty brand, make sure they’ve successfully handled beauty campaigns in the past, or if you’re looking to publicize a non-profit gala, make sure they’ve worked on charity events.  It’s standard to request case studies that show similar work with clearly defined results.

Assuming the skills are in place, you want to make sure there is a chemistry and cultural fit between the personnel on the brand and agency side. Did you click in the initial meeting? Do you feel you’re on the same page when it comes to the vision for the campaign and the desired results? The most important thing in any business transaction is to make sure you ENJOY the people you’re working with, so make sure the people on the agency team are the type of people you wouldn’t mind pulling an all-nighter at the office with or travelling for work.

How Do I Decide What Size PR Firm to Hire?

Team high-five

Ok, so you’ve decided what you want your PR agency to achieve. Now, you must choose an agency whose size reflects the goals you’d like to meet. An agency of the right size will ensure strong communication to obtain optimal results. Your options include a corporate / large agency, a boutique agency, or a freelancer.

A corporate agency offers many different departments for each of the various disciplines from traditional media outreach to digital strategy and social media services to event planning.

Contrary to popular thought, there are many advantages to hiring a boutique pr firm. A boutique agency delivers publicists who specialize in all areas of your campaign, so that one key point person is leading an integrated strategy across traditional, digital and events. The benefit of a boutique agency is that they are typically smaller in size, meaning they are more selective in their clientele, take on fewer clients at a time, and your point person is likely more accessible and available to you on a regular basis.

If your budget isn’t big enough to meet the minimum retainer requirement at a large or boutique agency, you may want to consider a PR freelancer. This is an individual who takes on clients and doesn’t typically have a team or a lot of resources to support your project, but if specialized in your niche, could be very cost effective.

What Materials Should I have Ready When Beginning PR?

As a client, there are a few key pieces you should have ready to go when you hire an agency.  

  • Photography: The agency cannot promote your business without having professional photos of your product. These images are essential for providing a visual representation of your identity as a business. Scheduling a photoshoot and having the images ready for the agency will ensure your campaign runs smoothly with little interruptions.  The media will typically require high resolution images of your product shot on a white background, as well as lifestyle imagery. If you don’t have these pieces ready, a PR firm can help you to coordinate a photo shoot (and sometimes this is better because it means they ensure you capture exactly what they need), but you just need to make sure you’ve left enough lead time to go through this process before pitching needs to begin.
  • Line Sheet: If you’re promoting a new product in the fashion industry, you need a line sheet. The PR agency will need this before they can successfully promote your brand. This should include all of your assets, product shots, information on sizes, materials, colors and market suggested retail prices (MSRP).
  • Lookbook: Having a Lookbook is essential for a PR agency so that they know how your product is used and styled. And of course, make sure that the style of your lookbook matches your brand’s aesthetic and lifestyle, giving people a great first impression of our product.  
  • Website: You should have a fully-functioning website ready to go that reflects your brand in the best possible way. You don’t want to begin outreach with what you know is a 1.0 version of your site. You only get one chance for a “first impression” with media or editors, and you want to make it count.
  • Product Samples: Your PR agency can’t begin pitching the media or influencers on a product before they have product samples available. Any authentic media outlet is going to require a test drive with your product before they can offer a favorable review. Decide in advance how much inventory will be available for PR purposes so that your PR team can decide the best way to allocate product.  

How Often Should I Expect My Publicist to Communicate with Me?

Meeting about results

As a client, you should have an expectation for how often you’d like to communicate with the PR agency. This should be made clear at the very beginning. This is important because if it’s standard for the PR agency to update you on your campaign progress every month, but you’d like to communicate every week, you’re likely not a good match. Setting clear expectations in the contract before you engage will allow the relationship to run smoothly when you kick off.

A smart option is to request weekly touch-base phone calls or a Monday status report that tells you where PR items stand, so you know what was accomplished the week prior and what the plan is for the current week to ensure your priorities are aligned. Additionally, a monthly recap that includes data and analytics on PR or Social Media results for the month is a great way to benchmark success, monitor progress, and determine whether or not it’s necessary to pivot your strategy.

How Can I Be a Great Client to a PR Agency? What Will You Need from Me to Make the Relationship Work?

The most important thing to do once you’ve chosen a PR agency, is to trust that you chose the right agency! Remember that the client’s success is the agency’s success and they want to do well for you. Doing a great job for you means a great reputation for the agency’s business, a new case study to share to future clients, and that the agency has been able to provide their media and influencer contacts with great content which is always the goal.

It’s equally important to trust the PR plan and to let the agency see it through. For new clients, it is common to start second guessing strategy, and to constantly come up with suggestions for other things the PR agency could be doing for you. However, this actually distracts the agency from their goal. The firm will create a comprehensive plan based on their experience and expertise, and by meddling in the plan, you steer the PR team of course. Do your best to let the team do what they do best, and if you have a lot of questions, that’s ok, but plan to store them all up so that you can ask them at the next team meeting.  Remember, every time you email your PR team to ask for updates or ask questions, the time they spend replying to you is time taken away from services like pitching. Try not to change the plan every 2-3 weeks because it slows down your results and leads to false starts with no single idea being executed to fruition. If the original strategy isn’t working, your PR team will know when it’s time to revisit the drawing board and to consider pivoting.

When it comes to press contacts, respect your agency’s relationships. Your PR team has spent years building and cultivating these networks. It’s possible at some point, there may be an article that was not written exactly the way you wanted it to be. If there were factual errors, your agency can work on getting these issues corrected, but if it’s opinion based, the agency will only be able to do their best to work on a fix. Remember that burning a bridge doesn’t help anyone.

Finally, consider PR timelines and timeliness. Keep long lead and short lead times in mind when you’re preparing your product and materials, and also be ready to capitalize on opportunities as they come in. Sometimes a last minute opportunity is the best opportunity.  

Alyson Roy: Co-Author of PR Client 101 and Co-Founder of AMP3 Public Relations, a Boutique PR Agency in New York City. Her agency is currently ranked in the Top 10 Fashion & Beauty PR Agencies in the Country according to O’Dwyer’s. She was named PR Couture’s “Communicator of the Year” in the 2017 Bespoke Communications Awards, were AMP3 PR also took home the award for the best “Media Event” of the year. Most recently, her client-focused PR firm won “Agency of the Year” at the 2018 BCAs. 

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