Hiring A Public Relations Firm – Ideas From The Pros

Public Relations - How to Hire a Firm?


Companies large and small seem to be  looking for PR solutions. The Web, while full of helpful and insightful advice and information, can also be a counterproductive way to find answers if one does not find the best sources. On the subject of Hiring the right PR firm, there are all too few viable experts who give the straight scoop on what to look for. To be honest, most advice on the Internet (or anywhere for that matter), is jaded toward self promotion. For those companies searching for good answers, a resource I just found seems to have as many good answers as anyone. So, this is just an informative post with some good suggestions for those in need.

Robert Wynne’s post on Forbes outlines some key points in selecting the right PR, as well as providing a decent primer on PR as a tool for companies. Though his introduction attributes a little too much value to media relations, the meat of the article is spot on in many regards. To be brief, there is a lot to think about when selecting the right PR solution for your company. DIY PR and other “budget” solutions are not at the top of our list as viable solutions for anyone, but there is a place for at least a PR functionality in any company. One telling comment by Wynne reveals the biggest rub against DIY PR efforts:

While a professional PR firm can deliver huge bang for your marketing buck, this business isn’t rocket science. Truth be told, you could do a lot of it yourself–if you had the time and the connections, which you probably don’t.

Not only are connections crucial in PR efforts, but from a digital communications standpoint, the methodologies and “know how” of social media aspects cannot easily be incorporated by any company, even those immersed in Web development or other Internet business. People simply underestimate the time and effort required to be expert at Web communication and networking. This aspect leads appropriately into Wynne’s best points and suggestions.

Public Relations -

The Power of PR

Robert Wynne’s (left) contention about the power of PR is that public relations is basically about “earned media” versus “bought media” as in advertising. Nothing could be closer to the truth actually. Though PR pitches and hype can sometimes resemble marketing or advertising (depending on the product and the people telling the story), for the most part earned media attention is a filter. I guess you could call it a BS filter with experienced journalists and editors acting as the medium of extraction. Secondly, a readership acts as a kind of filter for good stories in support of editors and writers as well. This sort of goes without saying, but it is something we seldom think about.

Flexibility and Focused Effort

Aside advice as to the economies of selecting a PR firm for a particular business, which is important because not every firm is as efficient or economical as another given the niche or market a company needs to engage, the crux of Wynne’s argument can be narrowed to the following suggestions for choosing your PR representation.

  1. Corporate Culture – Companies are basically either bureaucratic or entrepreneurial, and fast-paced or methodical. Any company needs to engage PR firms that can be integrated within their own corporate culture, or “mirror” them. An example of mine, GE or a similar entity might need a firm like us that specializes in early stage startups or transitional expansion, but in the long term GE needs “on the ground” support and a far more long range structure and methodologies.
  2. Expertise – Specialty firms tend to have their experience focused on finely targeted sets of skills and tasks, while generally focused PR is more suited to not only bureaucratic companies, but much broader planning and decision making aspects.  For the entrepreneur or fast paced online integration, specialty firms cannot be compared with. A good analogy might be a relief pitcher in a baseball game as opposed to a catcher. One is there for a specific task where a narrow set of experiences are needed, while the other anchors an overall effort with stability and unfailing dependability. Perhaps not the best analogy, but good enough for a general idea.
  3. Proof or Examples – A track record is essential to evaluating the potential for success in anything. Wynne’s focus of example here was on the “level” of media coverage one PR got over another. This is not really the important proof a company should be looking for. A story in the NYT’s might be indicative of “something” (heck, luck for that matter9, but achieving a particular set of goals for clients, or even for one’s own firm, is far more indicative of the potential for success.  A small Web oriented firm like ours is not nearly as focused on major traditional media outlets as say, Waggener Edstrom is. increasingly, we see these larger firms engaging the Web, and effectively so. But, down in the trenches, where the real communication is, they are not honestly committed on the same level. More importantly, they cannot hire anyone who will be. Pay attention very closely to what your company needs, then correlate your proof.
  4. Level of Contact – Wynne brings to light another key element in choosing the right PR for your business – who will you really be working with? Face it, if you are a small startup or e-commerce site expecting Edelman himself to handle your account? Well, this point is easily taken. It is not that Edelman, Waggener or even Shift Communications (on the digital front) do not have brilliant people to help you, it is simply better to have the potential for more personal service from a hard charging, dynamic expert like Sabrina Horn, and perhaps lining up with a rising star, than lassoing a nice journalism student fresh out of Dartmouth. This is not to say Sabrina or any other rising CEO will handle a small client’s needs personally, all the time. However, the smaller and more dynamic a firm is, the closer to the nexus of expertness a client is. Think of this like the 300 Spartans versus all of Persia if you are a smaller company or one with finely tuned objectives.
  5. References – Any decent PR firm has either pleased their clients (or most of them), or you do not need them. The short and sweet of references is that anyone you are considering should be able to reveal at least some of their work, and provide you with a testimonial of a sort.

Conclusion

Certainly these are not the only criteria by which any business decision should be made. However, as a guideline these are fundamental to at least making a qualified decision. Without splitting hairs too much there are several other factors which tend to be more normative such as; personalities, location, refined definitions of services to be provided (no use comparing apples to oranges), and several other more minute considerations.

My recommendation, and something that has become a bone of contention for us, is to do your homework. PR is often considered a “hype” business, and this can be very true. But, truth can be fairly easily unearthed with regard to whether a company is telling it or not given what I call “a digital footprint” is used. I will get into how your company can make us of this in a later post, but suffice it to say that everyone interacting in the digital environment leaves bread crumbs to whatever they have done. It does not take rocket science (as even Wynne put it) to follow a trail like that. Choose the right PR strategy or firm, trust them, listen to them, and your chances of a successful venture will be increased 100 fold – honest.

Special thanks to Robert Wynne for his article on Forbes. Robert is the founder of WynnePR.

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