Choose It and Use It:
An Executive’s Guide to Selecting an Outstanding PR Firm
As chief executive, your first mandate is to manage and direct your organization toward its primary objectives based on profit and return on capital. Regardless of the type of business or industry, the actual value of your company’s offering is based on your target audiences’ perception. Fortunately, you hold the power to positively shift the perception of your business through the virtue of public relations.
By altering public opinion in an aggressive, strategic and ongoing public relations campaign, you are taking advantage of the information-driven nature of the economy to gain an increasing share of both mind and market.
In-House, One-Shot, or Hire a Firm
Although it may be tempting to conduct your own public relations campaign, the handyman- or -woman approach to PR has disadvantages that far outweigh the supposed benefits. The most glaring is that it will detract from your primary money-making endeavors, potentially undermining your own return on investment.
Similarly, hiring a PR firm for single events or messaging initiatives is ineffective for gaining, maintaining, and accelerating positive audience perceptions of your business. Ultimately, the goal is for your target audience to change not only its mind, but its resulting behavior – with the ultimate outcome of conducting business with your company. Behavioral changes take place after repeated messages are encountered in a variety of germane media outlets—and over an extended timeframe. In fact, it takes three months or more for most PR campaigns to generate the buzz required to substantially shift public opinion. Many businesses have had bottom-line returns of hundreds of percentage points after undertaking such a campaign. For instance, one company realized a six-month stock price increase of 566% following a sustained visibility program undertaken by its PR firm.
The most effective choice, then, is clear: Hire the best PR firm you can find and commit to that firm for a minimum of six months to a year to reap the rewards you need.
How to Recognize the Right PR Firm for You
Before you consider hiring a public relations firm, interview several until you find one that gives you confidence in their services and integrity. You should then request and review a proposal from the firm that seems most appropriate for your needs. The right firm will deliver a proposal that includes not only information regarding specific PR strategies and tactics they will undertake on your behalf, but also communications regarding the integrity with which you, the client, will be treated. Thus, you are evaluating both professional competence and integrity.
Professional competence includes your ready access to knowledgeable PR professionals who understand the public relations process and can “get the ink” you need to reach your audiences. At its best, access means that the senior-level professional you interview and on whose strength you’ve based your decision to hire the firm is the very same person who services your account, start-to-finish. Ask your prospective PR firm about this. It is a rare but valuable offering, as the efficiency and professional competence garnered in such an arrangement is extremely worthwhile for your business.
Knowledge implies excellence in writing, media relations, branding, consistency of messaging for the who, what, where, why, when and where of your organization. This also includes identifying target audiences and the best media outlets for reaching them, as well as all other PR practices specifically relevant to your business objectives.
The PR proposal should list and explain such initiatives and will itself be a sign of the professionalism you can expect during the implementation of your campaign. Be willing to ask clarifying questions and make suggestions for further initiatives. Note the ability and willingness of the firm to flex in response to your needs.
Integrity regards the way you will be treated by your PR firm. If the proposal does not specifically state information about the following items, ask questions of the firm before entering a contract with them.
An outstanding firm will offer you:
Pricing for actual hours of service, rather than moneys paid “up to” a given number of billable hours. Pricing for actual hours may include rolling activities to the following month and reassessing your hourly needs as the account continues.
Accountability to you, via monthly planning charts for objectives to be undertaken, as well as activity reports of actual accomplishments from the month prior. The outstanding firm offers timely accounts of real media results.
A reasonable requirement for terminating a contract. Some PR firms offer a 30-day exit; others require 60- to 90- days for exit; and others offer no exit at all.
You may notice that some items commonly presumed or sold as important are missing from this list of PR ideals. For instance, it’s not necessary for your chosen PR firm to be a large one. Indeed, some smaller firms offer all the items above, including direct access to senior-level representation, and some larger firms don’t. It is also not necessary for your PR firm to be famous, or national, or even targeted to your specific industry. A top-notch PR professional will listen to you and will quickly map their skills to your industry and business.