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Our August 12 blog post, 8 Questions to Ask in Your PR Agency Search, is still getting a large number of views, so it seems many people are struggling with the challenge of selecting the right PR firm.
So, based on our experience on both the client and the agency sides, we’d like to offer eight more questions you can ask that may aid you in making your choice.
1) What digital/social media experience does the firm have? For most clients, social and digital media will play at least some role in their PR program, so you’ll want to get an understanding of the company’s knowledge and real-world experience in the platforms that are best suited for your market. (One crucial clue – Does the firm use social/digital tools for itself as well as for its clients … or are they hoping to experiment/learn on your account?)
2) How long have the individuals designated to work on my account been with the agency? If most of the team members are recent hires, it may be a sign of high-turnover at the agency, which can lead to inefficiency, instability and frustration … for you. You’d like an account team that already knows the agency’s policies, procedures and operations, so they will be more efficient and effective … and one that’s not looking for their next gig.
3) What’s the average tenure of the agency’s staff on their respective accounts? Again, if the agency seems like it’s continually playing musical chairs, moving team members around, your account may experience the same kind of dizzying team turnover – and you’ll likely spend more time getting people up to speed than getting good results. Some new blood and fresh thinking on an account team are important, but are best when paired up with some stable teammates who know your account inside and out.
4) How do you determine the agency’s rates and/or fees? Some agencies bill at one average hourly rate. Some bill at different rates for different job titles. Some bill actual hours worked each month, others bill on a monthly retainer basis and still others bill one-price project fees. However the agency operates, make sure you understand what you’re paying for and how much you’re paying for it, so there will be no surprises. A good partner will be transparent and forthright in its billing, and a steadfast steward of your budget — to help you get the most bang for your PR buck.
5) Can you give me an example of how the agency helped a firm like mine meet similar challenges? While past performance isn’t the only indicator of future success, it can be important. Most companies want an agency that has successfully been there and done that. If the agency’s success story was for a client in a different industry, at least the challenge should be similar to yours. The agency’s approach to the challenge and the thinking behind it are what will be most revealing to you.
6) What can you tell me about my firm? Has the agency done its homework to learn all it could about your firm, without prompting? Have they gone beyond a cursory visit to your website? Have team members reviewed the past year’s news coverage or talked with editors and clients to get some perceptions of your firm? If the agency is busier shaping its own story than trying to understand yours, they may not have the client focus you want.
7) What can you tell me about my competitors, my customers and my market? Again, most companies would prefer an agency that is eager and proactive in learning about the client’s business environment over an agency that is focused on selling itself. Going the extra mile to learn about the environment in which your firm operates and providing a candid assessment shows that the agency offers the kind of analytical thinking and candor that are the hallmarks of trusted advisors.
8) Would you be willing to work with us on a project as a “test drive”? PR firms often want to sign a one-year (or longer) contract from the start. But that involves quite a bit of risk for you. Most times, it’s better for a firm and an agency to “date” before they get “married.” This approach limits the commitment and mitigates risk for both parties, while you determine if the most important factor in the client-agency relationship – the CHEMISTRY – works.