PR firm should be specific to you. Here are the worst questions to ask your agency and what to ask instead.Want to know the advice I give colleagues when they ask me what they should know about hiring an agency? I tell them something they haven’t thought about: throw out all your old questions when you’re hiring any agency. This advice surprises people, but let me explain. It’s important when you’re hiring an agency to ask questions that point to your needs, not some random checklist. What to look for in a
“How Does Your Team Learn About New Industries?”
“Do You Have Industry Experience?”
This is the default question everyone asks. The reality is that whether an agency has worked within your industry isn’t a success indicator. The more important indicator of success is how engaged your PR team is with the world and how they approach learning something new. What you want to know is how intellectually curious your team is because that actually matters more.
Agencies with narrow niches are really valuable in highly regulated industries, like the cannabis industry, where there are hundreds of different laws to understand, many of which vary by state. But for most industries, narrow niches don’t really get you, the client, much of advantage – even in PR, which is famous for relationships, I’ll get into that more deeply in a minute. But even if working in a particular niche is important, it’s still more important that the team be naturally curious.
Why? For one, some of the best ideas come from exposure to other industries and customers. But why do you want an agency that works closely with your competitors? And why doesn’t it matter in PR? When choosing a PR agency, it’s more important that your agency can predict trends and find opportunities for your company to make or comment on news.
“Have You Worked with Companies of Our Size?”
“What Companies Have You Worked With?”
It’s easy to be impressed by the logos of major brands on the pages of a PR firm’s website. But ask yourself what that means to you. Working with huge international firms is its own skill because of the layers of stakeholders. But huge brands move slower, and their stakes differ from a startup, a challenger brand, a company breaking new boundaries in an emerging industry, or a hypergrowth company that is pre-IPO.
You can define “size” by employee count or revenue, or even IPO status, but the challenges of hiring an agency vary depending on the company’s size. For example, a company with a CMO, a few Marketing VPs, and dozens of marketing managers has human capital, but they also have a more complicated web of brand perspectives and departmental goals. Whereas a company of $10-$30 million in revenue has different human capital considerations and is likely to have a CEO who is, at least sometimes, engaged with the PR agency. It’s not uncommon for our agency to deal directly with CEOs, and working with CEOs is very different than working with a team of marketing managers. Companies in growth phases move faster, have higher expectations, and perhaps haven’t worked with a PR agency before, which means there will be some education along the way. If you’ve never worked with a PR agency before, you don’t want to work with an agency that doesn’t specialize in companies that are new to PR.
For one, CEOs of $10-$30 million companies are very often an integral part of the company’s brand and, in fact, the de facto spokesperson. Multinational, public companies leverage their CEOs differently to different stakeholders – investors, for example – than smaller companies can and should. It’s also a matter of budget. A $250,000 annual budget, while typical for ambitious companies, isn’t much of a PR budget at all for household name brands. And why is that REALLY important? Because you want to be with a PR agency that sees your $250,000 budget as important rather than a small drop in the bucket.
So find an agency that works with companies of your size and agency experience. That’s actually more important to the success of your business and PR campaign.
“How Do You Contribute to Your Clients’ Business Goals?”
“What Do You Cost?”
This gets right to the heart of it, doesn’t it? What’s your target ROI? The question to ask your PR Agency should dig right to the heart of what you need. Does your agency know how to develop a campaign that helps you secure VC funding? Or how about during your pre-IPO phase? Maybe you want to build a premium team before a merger or acquisition. PR supports cross-functional business outcomes.
Like any awareness or marketing initiative, PR is OK in a vacuum. However, when it’s given room to breathe and really support your business, then it really takes off. So don’t silo your PR. But also, it’s like any investment: it gets amortized over time. The good news about PR versus something like advertising is that PR lasts forever. Just like you don’t turn on PR as fast as advertising, it also doesn’t turn. Long after a PR agency is gone, your PR remains. PR is an investment you make in your business, and it’s the most valuable investment you can make.
“How Seasoned is the Team?”
“Who is On The Team?”
This might be one of the top questions to ask your PR agency. Seasoned, experienced PR professionals have been through the wringer. They’ve been through crisis, they’ve seen economic upheaval, they’ve handled recalls, they have been in competitive dog fights. These are the kind of team members you want on your team. It’s not uncommon for agencies to have really junior members do the bulk of the account work.
Much PR work is reading between the lines. Younger team members miss the nuance when they put together a media list; they miss the tie-ins that work because of a small detail. An experienced PR Team saves you countless hours of educating a more junior PR team on business basics, striking the right tone at the right time – and importantly, reading the room. Emotional intelligence often comes with experience, and emotional intelligence moves the needle faster and in a more sophisticated way. Plus, experienced PR team members can head off problems before they become one, saving your brand dollars on the actual bottom line and valuations.
Whether it’s content and SEO, or advertising or PR, there is always a shift in the universe, and agencies are adept at understanding the shifting sands. But there are more agencies than ever before. Even the best PR agencies aren’t always the easiest to find. Agencies today provide more value to businesses than ever before, but it’s more important than ever for you to find the right fit, because the stakes have never been higher.