In part two of our guidance on when is the best time to hire a PR agency, the second key question to ask is: Do you have enough time and resource to work with a PR agency?
Very often companies hire a PR agency too early before they are fully able to dedicate enough attention to ensuring that it will be a success. So, consider whether you are set up for an agency to succeed. As we explored in part one, success is dependent on good fundamentals. Is there a clear brief? Are we all in agreement on which audiences are the priorities and what we are going to focus on in terms of key messages? Do we know what good looks like?
This sounds flippant, but it gets to a much more important truth about experience. Is there someone on your team who has worked on or in PR before? It’s completely possible to know nothing of the workings of PR and be a great client, you just need to choose the right agency that is experienced at guiding you through the process.
The other major consideration is who is going to be the PR firm’s main point of contact? This may not necessarily be the same as the person who is accountable for PR in your organisation. Setting the strategy and the budgets and judging the results isn’t the same as getting hold of a spokesperson or approving a quote or a social media post on a daily basis.
Different agencies work in different ways, but they all need help to be effective. Let me share an example. An experienced PR client will know that media opportunities need to be acted on quickly. If your PR secures an opportunity for you to provide a comment for something that is in the news, or if there’s a journalist who wants to speak to you, you have to act quickly to secure the opportunity.
Journalists very often have a few conversations on the go because they know that busy executives aren’t always going to be available to meet their deadlines. Similarly, if the PR comes up with an idea they want to pitch to a journalist around specific moment in time or news item, you have to be responsive enough so that they can land it in time. Responsiveness is a biggie. Otherwise you will be wasting your money paying for your PR team to develop opportunities that are going to waste. It’s not only morale that suffers in that scenario: Journalists like people who get back to them as they are usually working to deadlines. If you are a bottleneck, relationships will suffer and you won’t get the best result.
Other ways in which inexperienced clients can unwittingly do more harm than good is in scope creep. Like so many other service businesses, time is money. In order to be a well-run business, PR agencies need to keep an eye on over-servicing clients. If the fee you’ve agreed covers an amount of time or is set against delivery of a particular activity, introducing new tasks and asking for lots of extra calls and meetings uses up the time and takes the focus away from delivery of the agreed deliverables (sometimes referred to as KPIs). And we’re back to creating conditions to enable success again.
One final watch out is whether you have anyone who is happy to step up and actually be the public face of the organisation (if it’s that kind of PR, product campaigns rely less on people than PR that’s designed to work at company level). But again, this can really be a major factor in whether the agency is enabled to succeed. Spokespeople should be media trained. There is no such thing as a ‘natural’ it’s just that experience makes it look easy.
Too many communications consultants may be familiar with a scenario in which you have a request from the BBC for someone to appear on the Today programme, (the flagship business focused morning radio show), the one o’clock news and the six o’clock news. But none of your potential spokespeople are willing to move their day around to do it. So, after many, many calls and conversations and attempts to coerce and cajole the various spokespeople, a day is lost, as is the opportunity that had probably taken months to foster.
The real point here is that someone on the client side needs the authority to make it happen. PR can very often be seen as a discretionary activity by people inside an organisation who are the subject matter experts the media wants to interview. Setting clear expectations on both sides at the outset can be helpful if this situation arises.
Other areas that need addressing are often somewhat creative and therefore often subjective. Writing for a media audience is a case in point. There is an art and science to writing a good press release. Endless rounds of reviewing and revisions of media materials by people inside client organisations can become problematic and time consuming. We have a saying which is ‘be careful who you ask’ because most people have a point of view and will fiddle around with a document given half a chance. This can end up with a Frankenstein’s monster of a press release over-long, overtly salesy and stuffed with bland quotes from everyone and their dog. This segues into a great cliché – why get a dog and bark yourself? If you’ve gone to the trouble of hiring a PR agency, they should be more than capable of advising you on the contents of a press release.
And this is a good place to end. Trust is key. Don’t be surprised if your agency sets out a ‘ways of working’ manifesto that helps to frame reasonable expectations on both sides at the beginning of your relationship. In fact, be happy if they do, because it means they are determined to remove all barriers to doing a good job for you, even the ones you might not realise are there.