By Lucy Siegel

Part Two on Hiring a PR Firm: How to Evaluate Finalists in a PR Agency Search

The last stage in hiring a PR firm is to get to know the finalist agencies better so you can make your choice. Here are some expert tips about what to find out from the finalist public relations agencies’ owners and founders.

  1. When evaluating firms, meet the whole team. “Make sure you and your entire team meet the full account team that will service your business,” Mary Shank RockmanMSR Communications in San Francisco, advises.  “It’s important for both clients and agencies to feel the chemistry between teams, not just between you and the CEO, in order to successfully collaborate together. Your agency should feel like an extension of your internal team. The strongest relationships between clients and PR firms are those that function like partnerships where goals and desired outcomes are shared and open communication is daily practice.”
  2. Find out exactly who will be working on your account. “Make sure the agencies promise you that the account team will be more than young staffers,” says David Eichler, Creative Director & Founder, Decibel Blue in Phoenix, and Decibel Green in Denver. “They don’t all have to be senior, but some of them have to be experienced.”
  3. Find out about the agencies’ staff turnover and client longevity. “Make sure they have had some clients and staff for more than five years,” Eichler comments. Ask specifically how involved the senior staff will be in the work.
  4. Make sure the agency understands your industry or market, not just your product. “Ask questions that only someone with a full understanding of your target market could answer,” advises Susan Fall, president, LaunchIt PR in San Diego, Calif. “Find out how often they attend conferences and events in your target market. Relationship building is a key component to successful PR strategies. Meeting the influencers and players can be done via phone but truly establishing relationships is more successfully achieved in person.”
  5. Be prepared to share what success means to you and your organization and ask how each agency would go about meeting your objectives, says Rockman.
  6. “Also find out what the agency will need from you to ensure this success,” Rockman adds. This includes time commitment from senior people at your company.
  7. Ask about each agency’s process and procedures. Find out how often they meet with their clients. Ask what kinds of reporting they provide and how frequently you will get reports. Ask how they measure the results of their work – you will want to have some objective criteria to judge their performance. In addition, “You’ll want to know how they bill, what their payment terms are, whether they add agency ‘up-charges’ to out-of-pocket expenses and what their termination policies are,” says Rockman.
  8. “Find out about the agencies’ ability to think on their feet.  Ask each agency to discuss a project that required them to quickly adjust strategy,” advises Jeanette Darnauer, principal/founder, Darnauer Group Communications in Aspen, Colo. “Effective agencies don’t just look good on paper. Their actions mirror the ability to handle real life challenges. Some of the most critical business challenges happen when we least expect them.”

Finally, to compare the agencies to each other, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. “Which firm is the most thoughtful, the most strategic?” Darnauer says. She notes that you should look beyond the obvious when hiring a PR firm – the skills and experience of the agency, and look at the personalities, the values the agency holds, their process of collaboration and the ways they engage difficult people.
  2. Darnauer adds that for each agency, you should ask yourself, “How can this agency truly enhance the vision and mission for my business?”

Read Part One