You already are aware of what and how important PR is for your company or institution. You just had your first contact with the representatives of the agency and start to feel that more and more questions come to your mind. In case you are wondering, yes, this is the right time to ask them. And if you have doubts about whether you forgot something important, here is a list to help you remember.
1. “How well do you understand our business?”
In order to achieve success, PR specialists need to know ins and outs of the industry they will be involved in. To ensure that, find out what results they have accomplished for companies in related industries, how they conducted their activities and whether they ultimately contributed to increasing brand’s visibility, sales or improving their image. Keep in mind, however, that the next step – which is becoming familiar with your company or institution – will be just as important. Are the agency’s employees ready for product training? Do they show curiosity about your services or products and wonder what makes them so unique? Understanding deeply the company’s structures and the way it operates will also be helpful in the next steps.
2. “How will you set goals?”
Communication with the public will yield results only when it goes hand in hand with the company’s business goals. The key is to find a common direction in which you will move together. Will your goal be to increase brand awareness among other companies (B2B segment) or develop brand recognition in the broader public (public opinion)? Remember that your company’s internal communication goals may be equally important and you also can count on the agency’s support to reach them (e.g. in projects related to Employer Branding).
In terms of media relations, the communication strategy presented by an agency might offer two simultaneous directions: a presence in industry media as well as a catchy campaign targeted on raising visibility in national media. Whatever the case may be, remember that traditional media are only one of the tools that an agency can offer when co-creating a strategy. Other effective ways to reach stakeholders include LinkedIn, which can be a valuable channel for achieving B2B goals, a blog created based on a funnel strategy and enhancing lead collection, or support in creating content for social media. Setting goals is possible through dialogue between the parties, so speak openly about your needs, but also listen carefully to the questions agency representatives are sure to ask.
3. “How do you measure the effectiveness of your activities?”
The essence of cooperation in creating a communication plan and setting common goals shows off when it comes to reporting results. Only then, by monitoring the fulfillment of KPIs, can the effectiveness of the actions taken be measured.
Many agencies at the very first meetings with clients propose to use indicators based on advertising value, which have been functioning on the market for years. Not focusing on the questionable reliability of such data, that perspective may be completely at odds with the goals of your company or institution, which does not necessarily care about obtaining impressive numbers, but, for example, a presence in the trade media.
At Planet Partners, we use proprietary KPIs, as well as methodologies based on international standards. One worth leaning on is the AMEC (International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication) indicator, which is becoming increasingly popular for social media and traditional PR. AMEC assumes in its principles that:
- setting measurable goals is the absolute basis of communication;
- measuring changes in consumer attitudes (Outcomes) is preferred to measuring the communication work done (Outputs);
- outcomes and impacts should be defined for stakeholders, society and the organization;
- outcomes measurement should be based on qualitative and quantitative indicators;
- evaluation includes all offline and online channels;
- measurement and evaluation are rooted in fairness and transparency to stimulate learning, cognition and lessons learned.
4. “How can we get to know you better?”
Underneath this seemingly mundane question may lie many key issues impacting further cooperation.
Presenting the team recommended to take care of your brand will certainly build trust. It is good if the dedicated team includes specialists with experience in a particular industry and in achieving similar business goals (e.g., effective B2B communication). On the other hand, it is worth asking the agency’s management about flexibility and the possibility of changes – mutual understanding between the parties will increase the quality of work. It will also be beneficial to outline the structure of the company, which will help the agency not only to respond appropriately to current issues, but also to make personnel reshuffles, should the need arise.
What kind of communication support team do you have? In day-to-day work, emergencies may arise that require support outside of a dedicated PR and content team. An example? Preparing infographics to complement the text. Or taking care of quality content posted on social media or the company’s blog.
It is worth making sure that a particular agency can be of assistance in such cases. Certainly, leaving these tasks under the wings of one team that understands the business and goals will positively affect the quality of materials and results.
What if there is a crisis? What is your procedure? Publications related to a brand will not always be positive. It happens that a certain aspect of the company’s activity or another factor triggers a media crisis that negatively affects the image. An experienced agency then follows a strictly developed plan based on procedures, without getting carried away by emotions. Strategic thinking, the need to be one step ahead of questions from the media or the public, constant control despite a demanding and stressful situation characterize top-notch PR professionals.
Cooperation with an agency does not have to be locked into a rigid contractual framework – an additional value will be a proactive attitude on the part of the team. Examples? Looking for new opportunities to appear in the media and offering the client solutions outside the scope of work.
5. “Sending messages to the media – that’s not all you do, is it?”
Relationships with journalists and providing them with content that appeals to them on a regular basis – that’s only a fraction of what you can count on from media branding specialists. The experts you undertake cooperation with will present you with several options that can be of value in various communication situations:
- Press conference – useful particularly when you have a very important message to convey to your audience through the media and at the same time you want to give the opportunity to ask “live” questions;
- Media brunch – a less obliging format that helps you maintain relationships with journalists (especially industry or local ones), talk through issues, and clarify important brand issues;
- “One to one” interview – arranging a conversation with a journalist, a representative of a particular media outlet (whether industry or national) is a chance to outline your vision of an issue, but also to show openness and willingness to face questions.
6. “Can we talk to your customers about working with you?”
Usually, companies specializing in communications are eager to show off successes collected in an impressive portfolio. Undoubtedly, it’s worth getting acquainted with them, but are they to be trusted unreservedly? Both yes and no. On the one hand, confirmed successes can be a litmus test showing what an agency can afford. On the other hand, the real knowledge of how the cooperation looks like on a daily basis, what to pay attention to, can be obtained by talking to current and/or former clients of the agency. Yes, it may take a few days to obtain the appropriate approvals for contact (mainly because of the GDPR regulations), but it will also allow you to answer a number of nagging questions, especially if the person you are talking to represents a related or the same industry.
The aforementioned contact will shed new light on cooperation with the agency, especially in terms of working methods, customer contact, employee attitudes, response to crises, proactivity, etc.
In conclusion, choosing the right PR agency is a key part of successfully promoting and building your company’s image. Before making a final decision, carefully research potential partners, asking questions about their working style, background tools, talk to current or former clients (if possible). Focus on an agency that demonstrates a full understanding of your goals and values, feeling proper care and professionalism on their part.