What is public relations?
Public relations is the process of helping an organization, government entity or individual maintain a positive public image through different outlets, like social media, press releases, local or trade publications or in-person gatherings. They collaborate closely with clients to uphold a strong reputation and diffuse any negative public comments if a crisis occurs that involves the organization.
PR professionals work either in-house or in an agency collaborating closely with the organization. In-house public relations employees focus solely on telling the organization’s story in a way that positively portrays and presents its ideas, products or accomplishments. They often work closely with the marketing team to establish a company’s brand voice and provide approval of certain marketing materials before they’re released.
Other PR account managers work in agencies on teams that specialize in certain industries, outlets or channels. They often hold strong connections with certain press members to ensure your announcements are published when, where and how your company prefers.
What services do PR agencies offer?
PR agencies offer a wide variety of services to help build your company’s reputation and contact the public on your behalf. Many of them charge specific rates based on which services you’d like to receive. Common services PR agencies offer include:
- Media relations
- Company brand and messaging
- Strategy development
- Crisis and reputation management
- Press release creation
- Market research
Things to look for in a PR agency
Think about your organization’s goals to help you better understand what services and resources you need from a strong PR firm. Common things to look for in a PR agency include:
Industry knowledge and experience
Many companies employ PR agencies that specialize in their industry because they understand the specific brand voice and messaging audience members are looking for. They also have connections within the industry, so they know the exact outlets and publications to get your content seen by a wider audience. These PR firms also have a strong familiarity with common industry terms, so you don’t have to spend time explaining these to them.
Find a PR firm with employees who have worked in this industry before, hold strong connections and are passionate about the industry. This helps you find people motivated to help your company succeed.
There are numerous PR firms available in an abundance of sizes. Try to find one that matches your own company’s size. If your organization is starting out and needs extra attention and guidance, it’s best to work with a smaller agency that’s more responsive to your calls and messages, asks for lower rates and has more time to strategize and collaborate closely with you. As your business grows, you may need to pursue a larger PR agency that works with bigger companies and offers additional services.
As you meet with different PR firms, take time getting to know their employees’ personalities to understand how well they’ll get along with your team. It’s best to have your communications, sales or marketing employees meet with theirs, since they’ll be collaborating with them regularly. The PR firm you choose should be professional, courteous and passionate about telling your company’s story.
If you’re a smaller, local business, consider finding PR firms in or near your area. They typically have connections to the local news, radio and television stations, so they’ll ensure your announcements or material gets released on these outlets. This also allows them to give you more accurate recommendations for the best ways to communicate with the community since they live in the area.
Pricing is an important factor for your organization to consider. Ensure their listed fees are reasonably priced according to their expertise and the amount of work they’re contributing. Carefully review the firm’s breakdown of fees and compare it with others to ensure they’re asking for realistic prices that match their skill levels and services offered.
How to choose the right PR agency for your business
Follow these steps to help you select the right public relations agency for you:
1. Define your company’s goals
Before researching potential firms, list out your key goals and expectations you’d like the PR agency to help you achieve. Meet with your team beforehand to ask what they’d prefer to see the PR firm accomplish when it comes to building your reputation and establishing a positive image. Detail specific goals, like the markets you’d like to reach, the key messaging you’d them to communicate and the number of media interactions to reach.
Present these goals to PR firms so they can review and explain how they’ll help you hit each milestone. You can even input these into a brief or request for proposal if you’re planning to have PR firms build proposals and undergo a selection process.
2. Ask to speak with references
When you’ve met with different companies and learned more about the services they offer, ask to speak with past and current clients. This allows you to understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie and helps you learn firsthand how well they work with other clients. Research the PR firms online as well to find honest client reviews and feedback regarding their experience working with each agency.
3. Have them meet several employees at your company
Once you’ve narrowed the agencies down further, arrange a meeting in person for both of your teams to interact with each other. Bring the employees who will be collaborating with them regularly on certain projects. Ask for your team members’ honest feedback to understand what they think of the firm’s staff and if they believe they’d enjoy working with them every day. It’s crucial to find an agency that works well with your team, so all employees feel excited to collaborate and deliver strong PR materials.
4. Determine your budget
After conducting research and comparing different firms’ prices, decide which one aligns best with your budget. If you find an agency you enjoy that’s too far out of your price range, see if you have room in your budget to adjust to their prices. There may be some firms you find challenging to choose between. If this is the case, select the one that fits within your budget while still offering quality services.
When you pick a firm that works best with your needs and budget, build a schedule to regularly meet and strategize your plans to meet your PR goals. Your relationship with the firm should be ongoing and treated like a partnership.