Marketing your business: When should start-ups outsource PR

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10 questions to ask your prospective PR agency 

Having spoken to clients about this numerous times, choosing the right PR agency can sometimes feel like finding a needle in a haystack.

A huge amount of time and energy is invested in sourcing an initial group of agencies with the right general qualifications, then whittling them down to a shortlist of three or four to pitch.

That’s when it gets tricky. Agency ‘beauty parades’ are, by definition, rather artificial and unless you ask the right questions, you may end up in a world of confusion and conflict, leading to a poor appointment that sends you back to square one.

We have been asked thousands of questions by prospective clients over the years. The vast majority are generic, meaning that agencies have plenty of scope to prepare an answer that may sound good but cover up a multitude of sins. Remember, PR agencies are good at verbal window dressing, so it is important to prepare questions that give you real insight and allow you to experience what it would be like to work together properly.

Using our experience and sharing some secrets, we have identified TEN questions that you should always ask a prospective PR agency.

These are the questions that every agency must answer effectively and if they can’t…well, make your own mind up.

It is time to make the pitching process easier and more transparent for clients, and to allow the good agencies to shine through. If you follow our list below, hopefully that will happen. 

What do you know about us that we didn’t know already?

A good way to cut through information sourced from Wikipedia, or avoid re-reading your brief. Has the agency bothered to conduct primary research, speak to people and understand your position in the market, using methods you may not have considered yourself? If they have, they really want to work with you. If not, sadly this may be just another pitch. Move on. 

Who will be working on my account?

If the three most senior members of the agency you are hoping to work with turn up to pitch to you, this may seem ideal. By sending their senior members they are surely trying to show you that they take your business seriously, that they are making time for you and willing to put in their most experienced members of staff forward to work with you, right? Not always.

If these senior members of staff are the ones that will be slaving away with you each day and have the requisite passion and appetite for the job, then fine – no problem. However, it’s worth asking who you will actually be working with. Making sure that the team you will be interacting with on a daily basis are a good fit is beyond important. Ask to meet the people who will be delivering for you, not their heads of department, before you start work. 

Are we going to get lost in the crowds of clients?

To avoid becoming a mere statistic, a commercial cog in the corporate wheel, ask agencies how they are structured. Get under the skin of their departments and understand the ratio of people to clients. If the numbers don’t crunch, kick them to the curb. 

What is the campaign you’re most proud of?

Well if they can’t answer this one… 

How much of our time will you need?

An important consideration because you need an honest answer. If the agency says they will do it all and you will just read the results, they are lying. Any agency needs input, guidance and collaboration to ensure they are providing proper value. Look for a response somewhere between complacent independence and smothering neediness here. 

How will you measure results? 

If the agency suggests AVE as the sole measure of measurement, you are unlikely to be cut from the same cloth. You need real, tangible metrics that mean something to your business; tiered target media, agreed messages and content that you own rather than latch onto. If an agency is not prepared to commit to that, they are giving their own team a vote of no confidence. 

What if you don’t hit targets?

A curveball and always a tricky one to answer.  PR doesn’t always come with guarantees and agencies should steer clear of salesy platitudes. Instead, a pragmatic approach that agrees to regular reviews and measurement, rather than money back guarantees, should inspire confidence. 

How often will I hear from you?

This can vary dramatically from agency to agency so it’s good to know where you are and how the suggestions fit your working schedule. Again, a balance between too much and too little is important, as is a clear structure of weekly reporting and diarised meetings / conference calls with focus. 

What are our biggest challenges in your view?

The agency is hopefully going to help you meet these challenges, so it’s not an unreasonable question. It will sort the wheat from the chaff by demonstrating if they have given proper thought to your own objectives and market challenges, rather than simply holding up a mirror and admiring their own recommendations. 

What is your fee structure? How do you determine the level of fee?

A predictable question, you might think, but digging deeper pays off. Any agency can reel off a figure and there may be several that fit your budget – but what do you get for that and how are the fees allocated to allow sufficient expert resource to work on the account? Commercial rigour and transparency is the least you can expect from an agency partner you intend to trust.

For more PR Tips for startups from PHA Media, pre-order their free ebook with top tips from industry experts.

Stuart is Director of PR and Business Development at PHA Media and has been with the company for nine years, moving through the ranks from Account Executive level.

Having graduated with a First Class degree from Oxford University, Stuart worked as a sports journalist at the Daily Telegraph and The Observer before choosing a career in PR.

As part of his role running the Entrepreneur & Business team, Stuart has incubated specialist mini-teams dealing with Technology & Innovation, Business Brands and Campaign Management. He is also a founding member of the company’s Business Development department, which is dedicated to identifying and recruiting exciting companies and individuals as new clients for the agency.

 

Stuart is passionate about ensuring PHA provides the most innovative solutions and very highest levels of delivery, and is involved heavily on the strategy and planning side, as well as dealing directly with a multitude of demanding clients.

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