The decision to hire a public relations agency can feel overwhelming. After all, you are handing your brand over to an outside team, allowing them to represent your company and control the messages that reach your target audience. Public relations agencies can serve as a fantastic resource for both new and established brands as they have knowledge of best practices, as well as relationships with the media outlets, journalists, and industry influencers your brand needs to reach. A skilled public relations agency will offer a wide variety of services to increase visibility, improve your company’s reputation and drive more sales.

All PR agencies have success stories and good media connections.  The process of choosing the right agency for your business may seem daunting.  How do you differentiate between the many options out there?  How can you tell who is the right fit?  When considering hiring an outside agency, there are a few things to note that will help you select the perfect partner:

Strategic Approach

A strong public relations agency will lead with strategy. They should ask thoughtful questions out of the gate, even during your very first conversation.  An agency needs to understand your strengths and weaknesses as a brand, what sets you apart from your competitors and what success will look like for your business, in order to reach your goals. A public relations strategy should serve as a guide to keep your current and future campaigns on track, allowing for quick adjustments to make your business goals and activities easier to share with target audiences. A solid strategy will include more than high-level, pie-in-the-sky creative ideas; it should include specific tactics, such as press releases, timely pitches, speaking opportunities, awards programming, special events and more. The right agency will be in-tune with trending news cycles and use their insights to analyze and anticipate any issues that may impact your brand. In addition, the agency should also incorporate strategies for inserting your brand into public conversations in a positive way. Implementing a public relations strategy assists brands in not only generating interest from the media but will also help organize the many stories that resonate with your brand’s diverse audiences. If an agency spends more time talking about themselves during your initial conversations, doesn’t ask thoughtful questions, or simply agrees with everything you say, they may be more interested in “selling” you than partnering together for long-term success.

Integration & Alignment With Marketing Goals

While strategies may differ, a public relations agency should align with your brand’s marketing team. It’s crucial that both are focused on the top priorities for the brand. Integrating public relations with marketing helps ensure your brand’s voice is being heard and understood properly. Cohesive messaging, thoughtful tactics, and keeping track of results can help you reach a wider audience, get a higher return on investment, and achieve greater success. Through social metrics and interactions, public relations can deliver insights to sales and marketing teams and reach your target audiences in a highly targeted manner through a number of communication channels. With results-focused objectives that match marketing initiatives, public relations teams can produce content with strong purpose and simultaneously improve marketing outcomes. Properly integrating public relations into a brand’s marketing efforts is also a great way to balance short-term sales-driven goals with efforts that create long-term brand enthusiasts.

Industry Expertise

Generalist agencies are fine, and in many cases, they can get the job done.  However, an agency with specialized expertise in your industry will understand the brand voice and messaging to which your target audience will respond. They will have established connections within your industry and possess strong relationships with journalists who are writing for your target publications. In addition to industry media relationships, a specialized agency will also have relationships with industry organizations — providing opportunities to position your brand’s leadership team for exposure at industry events. Another benefit to choosing a specialized agency is they have a strong familiarity with common industry terms, so you spend less time explaining these to them, and more time celebrating great opportunities and coverage. Ask your prospective agency for examples of work they’ve done in your field; if they don’t have specific case studies or contacts, ask how they will leverage their experience in other segments to drive the needle for your business.  They should either have a specific understanding of your field or be nimble, creative thinkers whose approach and connections will translate well.

Organized, Personal Account Management

At the end of the day, an agency can provide you the very best strategic plan and wow you with their out-of-the-box creative thinking, but if they do not have an organized, methodical approach to account management, you may not see the results you are hoping for.  Public relations takes time, consistency and resources.  An agency should be providing you with a dedicated account team of at least 2-3 professionals who understand your objectives, and should be able to easily outline for you the steps they will take to drive results.  What systems do they use to track their plan?  How do they measure success?  What are the KPIs they would recommend to ensure they are driving ROI for your businesss?  A strong account team should become an extension of your own internal team, paying attention to timelines and ensuring all activities are executed in the right way. And, clear communication is key – whether writing a report, connecting one-on-one or communicating via email or phone, a strong account manager should clearly articulate the action plan and keep all members continuously updated to eliminate any confusion or miscommunication. This extension of your team should also be proactively on the lookout for trending news and industry topics, positioning your brand and leadership team in the best light as expert resources. Lastly, are they someone you like and want to work with? Do they make doing your job easier…and even, dare we say it, a little more fun?

From developing strong corporate messaging, authoring an article for your CEO, distributing a press release that captures the attention of the media, developing impactful social media campaigns, or planning a creative special event, the support of the right public relations agency is invaluable. Remember, a public relations firm should be a trusted and strategic partner — not just a vendor. Choose a partner who personally cares about you and your organization’s mission. Make sure you can see yourself working with the agency team day in and day out, collaborating and exchanging ideas, seeking counsel, navigating difficulties—and most of all…celebrating big wins together.