Five things to look for when hiring a PR agency

By Marina Holmes

As a communications professional for over 10 years working in San Francisco and Melbourne, I’ve worked with and hired many PR agencies. I’ve always sought to work for innovative companies and want my PR agency to think outside the box too.

From my experiences and lessons learned, here are my tips on what to look for when hiring a PR agency.

1. Look for the hustle

I’m all about the hustle and I want an agency to feel equally as driven as I am to think creatively and proactively come up with new ideas that make a difference. This can be a hard ask to make for an agency that is undoubtedly managing multiple clients at once, but it boils down to a team being passionate and feeling empowered when working on your account.

2. Do they use your product or deeply understand it?

I’m fortunate to work for one of the biggest tech companies in Australia and frequently get pitched by PR agencies wanting to represent us. The emails are always interesting and agency credentials can be impressive, but there was one in particular that stood out to me.

The founder of the agency said that he had been using our product for over four years, and as a small business owner, it had changed his life. He gave specific examples of how it improved his business and offered new story angles to pitch to the media. The agency’s passion and first hand experience of using our product means they approach our news and product releases with deep insight into how the announcement resonates with our customers.

That was two years ago and I’ve been working with the same agency ever since.

While not every agency is able to use a company’s product or service, my advice is to test the agency director on how well they know your company during those early meetings. They should have done their homework and be able to clearly articulate what your company does. After all, a PR agency is usually your representation to the media, so you want them to talk about your company just as well as you can, if not better. It’s not about winning an account, it should be working with a company the agency believes in.

3. What’s their word-of-mouth?

What’s the biggest endorsement a PR agency can get? Whether a reporter rates them.

I always do my homework before signing a PR agency and ask reporters for their thoughts. In particular, I drill down on their industry knowledge, responsiveness, the value they add to a story and most importantly, are they courteous and respectful? We’ve all heard the horror stories about aggressive PR phone calls and examples of copy-and-pasted pitches and I want to know about the day-to-day workings of an agency from the field first.

4. Off to a good start

The best PR proposal I’ve ever seen included a page full of story ideas, a list of new reporters to connect with and a suggested communications campaign. It was a gutsy and risky move on their behalf to give away a bunch of great ideas all before a contract was even talked about. But it demonstrated their passion, creativity and commitment to working together.

Of course, that was a stellar proposal from 10+ years experience. However, you can still ask a potential agency for a couple of suggestions on new connections for your company’s chief executive, or ideas for new stories they would pitch.

5. Numbers count

I’ve sat through numerous presentations and read flashy proposals of awards won and big budget campaigns. Those credentials can easily sway but I advise to drill down on the numbers. What is their measure of success? Outside of a campaign, how many hits do they get for a client, weekly, monthly quarterly?

What is their rate of online versus broadcast? I’ll be the first to admit that my experience working in tech PR in San Francisco has made me bullish on targets and number of hits. I expect a lot from my PR agency but I’ll work closely together with them to achieve success.

Marina Holmes is the public relations director in Australia for Xero

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