How to Choose a Public Relations (PR) Agency

Selecting a PR agency is a process which if done well, can reward your company in many ways, but it also requires thorough preparation from your side. By investing a little time into your search, you could save yourself a lot of headaches at a later stage if things don’t go well. Below are the points you should ask both yourself and your potential partner when looking for a new (or evaluating your current) PR agency.


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    What do you want to achieve from PR? It is essential that you and your board understand this and communicate this to potential agencies. The common way this is initiated is via a brief where you can outline what you expect to achieve from the relationship with the successful PR agency. Many companies employ a PR agency because they think it is the right thing to do but are not clear internally as to what they want to achieve from it. Or, perhaps they know what they want, but not how they want to achieve it. It is essential that both you and the PR agency understand the objectives from the very beginning including timescales and targets. Whether this is hits on your websites, how many times the phone goes off, share of voice against competitors, coverage in key publications, awards or speaker opportunities, etc.--it is paramount that everyone knows what these are. For the relationship to work, everyone needs to understand what is required of them.
    • Be clear with the PR agency how their work fits in with your other marketing activities and the challenges you have faced in the past. This will help outline the objectives from any campaign right at the very start.
    • Define the deliverables: what actual work product can you expect and when? You should have some way to measure progress.[1]
    • It’s important to understand the different types of PR: media relations, community relations, crisis communications, collateral/script writing, etc. Some firms are crack at organizing community partnerships and events, but not as experienced with handling corporate crisis and media training.
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    Does the PR agency understand your company background and history? If successful, they will be representing you with the media and beyond so you need to ensure that you have chosen a partner who understands the dynamics of your company and the potential politics involved. Do they understand what products and services you sell? This is a fundamental necessity and there is no excuse for a PR agency not being able to understand this. Does the PR agency know what channels you use to get your product to the market? Again, these are relatively simple facts to discover and if the PR agency is worth its weight, it should have been able to find the answers to these simple questions via basic level research or by simply phoning you and discussing it outright. This should not take you more than ten to fifteen minutes on the phone or in person and shows that they are genuinely interested in getting under your skin and understanding the mechanics of what makes your company tick.
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    Have a look at what your competitors are doing. It is very easy to monitor on a basic level what your competitors are doing using tools such as Google Alerts. What are your competitors doing that you think you should be doing? Note these down and when speaking with PR agencies monitor to see if they mention them. This will give you an insight into whether or not the PR agency has done its homework on your market space or how innovative they will be in the face of your competitors.
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    Who are you meeting from the PR agency? A lot of agencies have a competent pitch team that they will reel out for a pitch meeting but the team who will actually be doing the work is not there. In this scenario you have just bought into a team you will not be working with. When asking an agency to pitch, don’t be afraid to ask them to send you the actual team that you will be working with and maybe even set the rule that the presentation should be split into percentages in accordance with your contact with that person. If you are only going to see the MD of the business for 5 per cent of the time that you work together, they should only present for five percent of the presentation. If you have a media specialist who you will be dealing with about 40% of the time, they should present for 40 percent of the presentation. This will give you a better understanding and feel of the team you are buying into.
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    What type of experience do you need? What are the company's split of clients that work in B2B against B2C? A good B2B agency also has a couple of B2C clients – this means that your PR agency understands how different media work and can also bring different ideas to the table.
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    Where is your headquarters? This is important as you need to choose an agency where communication isn’t going to be a factor in terms of time zones, language barriers or the ability to arrange a face to face meeting at the last minute without it being a logistical nightmare. If you need a PR agency with experience running PAN EMEA campaigns, established global networks, working across national boundaries or understanding of working with a head office from another continent, these are all things you need to establish straight away. If they don’t have this experience, you don’t want them experimenting with your business and making a mess of things.
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    How much budget do you have and what size of agency do you want to work with? Make sure the PR agency has the capacity to handle an account your size and also find out where you feature on the list of priorities. If one of their other clients is paying double what you are putting down, there is always the potential that they will receive preferential treatment. Make sure that your company isn’t thought of for the first time on a Friday afternoon when they are putting together your weekly PR activity report. Always ask for references from past and present clients. If you're really concerned, ask an agency what its biggest paying client is and how you would fit into their plan should they win your business in terms of priority/flagship clients (although if you're not going to be high priority client, most agencies would not let on to that!).
    • Size matters. There are boutique firms, local/regional firms and national/international firms. It’s key for the client to have realistic expectations about the market for their product/service and what the firm can deliver. Local firms will cost way less than national firms. Less overhead and personnel. Local firms usually know more about their markets.
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    Who else are they working with? A simple request will give you an idea as to the type of PR agency you are potentially teaming up with. Ask them for a list of their current and recent clients and how long they have worked with them. This will give you an indication of the type of experience of your market they have which could be potentially complementary. You will also be able to ensure that they are not working with one of your competitors. A good PR firm will not take on a client that may be a conflict of interest with another.


  • Some sources advise not enlisting the services of a PR agency unless you're guaranteed to have senior executives working regularly on your account.[1]
  • Ask about their media contacts. Which journalists do they know, and how can they prove it?[1]


  • Take case studies with a grain of salt. Be sure to ask if the people who worked on that project still work at the agency, and if so, request to have them assigned to your account.[1]

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