Should you hire a PR firm?
A public relations campaign can help your business enormously and it doesn’t have to be expensive. You basically have two choices when it comes to a PR campaign: you can either do it yourself or hire a public relations firm.
Assuming you can afford it, and assuming the agency is reputable, you can gain much by working with a PR agency.
An agency may be able to pinpoint those aspects of your business which would make it interesting to various publications, for instance. It can also allow you to focus on your day-to-day operations, and handle much of the work involved in running an efficient campaign.
Of course, there are disadvantages to using an agency, as well. First, it can cost quite a bit. You may be too small to justify the expense of using a PR agency.
Second, you will lose some control over your promotional efforts. Although the agency can do a great deal of work toward promoting your business, you do need to stay involved in the whole promotional process.
Even with these possible disadvantages, however, if you do not feel that you have the time and skill to organise a successful publicity campaign, it is better for you to seek competent, professional advice than to fumble with your public relations efforts.
Once you have decided to hire an agency to handle your public relations, you must determine which agency will provide the best service for your account.
The first and most important factor to consider is cost. According to most public relations agencies, the minimum price for a full-service public relations program can cost anywhere from $1000 a month.
As a small business owner, you do not have the free capital that larger corporations can afford to spend on a huge public relations campaign.
In addition to public relations, you will have to conduct an effective advertising campaign. This will be a significant financial burden as you try to get your business up and running.
Asking PR firms the right questions
You must find a reputable PR agency in your area. Most of the larger, more established PR firms are usually willing to give you a list of some of their current and former clients, depending on whether the clients have specified anonymity or not. This is especially true of the smaller, less established agencies whose clients don’t want their competitors to know which PR agency they are using and will usually instruct the agency not to use them as a reference. If you are able to get a list of clients, this will give you an idea of the type of industry the firm may specialise in.
Look at the types of clients the agency represents. If the firm only handles very large accounts, you might need to look elsewhere. You also need to consider whether there will be a conflict of interest if the PR firm is handling a competitor of yours.
Find out how long various clients have used the agency. Do they have a fair number of clients with whom they have long relationships? Or do they have an unusually high rate of client turnover? If so, the clients may not have received the results they expected from the agency.
If an agency seems promising, talk to some of its current and former clients and ask them for their opinion of it. Did they receive the personal attention they wanted? Were they made to feel important to the agency? Did they feel that they always knew everything the agency was planning for their campaign? Did the costs justify the results?
After you’ve found two or three agencies which seem suitable, set up a meeting with an account executive at each agency. Be sure to ask for the executive who would service your account. You could speak to a smooth-talking, personable representative and end up working with an unenthusiastic, overworked executive who is more interested in serving some of his larger accounts than yours.
Have the account executive go over an actual recent account case-history with you. Have him or her explain the objective of that campaign, the strategy used to achieve that objective, and the results of the campaign.
Intelligent, inventive strategies will obtain the best results. Look at the various strategies used by each PR firm. Which approach do you prefer?
Of course, different objectives call for different strategies; but you will probably find that you prefer one firm’s approach over the others.
Have the executive go over a typical contract with you. Look for any clauses that would bind you to that firm for a long time. If you’re dissatisfied with an agency with whom you have a six-month contract, you’ll have to stay with them for those six months.
Ask to see the work of the staff members who will work on your account. The firm might show you some great campaigns, but if the people who worked on those projects are no longer with that firm, those examples carry little weight.
What will PR firms charge you?
Before you can decide on an agency, you need to understand how they will charge you.
Public relations agencies generally have two methods of billing their clients:
Progressive billing, in which the agency bills on an ongoing basis for time spent on each project
Flat-fee billing, in which the agency bills the client a flat fee each month.
Both methods are based on year-long public relations campaigns with an annual budget for both time spent and out-of-pocket expenses.
Out-of-pocket expenses cover anything the agency purchases or produces on your behalf, such as brochures, stationery, press-kit folders, photographs, or postage. All out-of-pocket costs should be itemised on your invoice, so that if you have any questions, you have an easy reference.
Rates vary widely depending on region, project and client. Make sure you understand all the costs involved in accomplishing a project, and that there are absolutely no hidden costs.
Then, compare the costs to the expected outcome (such as higher visibility or increased sales), and decide whether an agency’s rates seem reasonable.
Even if you decide you don’t need or can’t afford an agency right away, it doesn’t hurt to become familiar with what public relations agencies can do for you. . . and at what cost.