How to choose the right PR agency for your business
Marketing spend has risen to record levels since the pandemic. PR and marketing have become business lifelines, boosting resilience and reputation throughout a challenging time. A large part of the focus has been on retaining customers and marketing efforts have become highly targeted with brand loyalty as a key driver. Approaches are increasingly personalised with customers treated as individuals and humanised to drive authenticity and credibility.
We’ve seen an increasing need for PR to align with these tactics to drive reputation, credibility and organic growth. But at a time of so much change, how can you select a PR agency that is going to grow with your business and your evolving marketing plans long-term?
Here are our top tips for selecting a long-term PR partner:
1. Make sure the PR agency ‘gets’ your business
Industry experience is obviously a big plus, but perhaps more important is the agency’s ability to understand your business - and its challenges – and understand the future direction. The list of important attributes your PR agency should possess include; collaborative, inventive and agile - able to shift direction in an instant.
Measurable PR results are the obvious outcome in any relationship, but a long-term PR partner will have gotten ‘under the skin’ of your business and may even challenge the status quo, providing a different perspective. They will share your common goal on what success looks like and provide a compelling strategy to achieve it.
2. Size counts, but not as you might think
In some industries it might work in your favour to appoint a larger, easily recognised firm but in PR it might actually work in the opposite way. Unless you have an endless pot of money, your budget is your budget and you want to make it work as hard as possible to achieve your desired outcomes. Working with a large PR agency may mean that you’re one of many clients and there’s every chance that some are paying more than you.
This could put you further down the list of the team’s priorities. To avoid feeling like the small fish, don’t consider the agency’s size as a deciding factor in whether it’s a good fit for your business. As mentioned before, the agency’s ability to understand your business will matter much more than turnover and headcount. The added benefit of working with a smaller agency is that you’ll also have the senior leaders more involved in your business.
3. Make sure that the agency can deliver a multi-channel communications strategy
PR and marketing as disciplines are far more intertwined today than they ever have been. Historically PR was focused on driving reputation and brand loyalty and marketing was more focused on sales, and whilst that’s still largely true, there is far more overlap in the channels used to communicate through. When you think of your customer’s and the platforms they are using, they float seamlessly between offline (traditional) and online (digital) channels. Therefore, your PR partner also needs to be able to work across all channels, with the ability to mix and match to suit campaign goals.
You may already be driving awareness of your brand via your blog and paid ads on social and traditional media. PR will deepen this level of engagement with the emphasis on building trust and authenticity and will encourage brand loyalty. Right now, the emphasis is on personalised content that speaks directly to your target audience and provides something of real value. This will create a sense of trust and understanding that is likely to evoke a more positive emotional response from your customers.
The best PR partner for you will be thinking beyond earned media and trying to find ways to increase its impact to highly targeted audiences be it social media, your online presence, increasing your SEO or delivering content to other relevant platforms. PR should integrate flexibly with your marketing function to reach more of your desired audience or to create a deeper connection.
4. Culture fit is crucial
When appointing a PR agency for the long haul, you need to admire their work ethic and tenacity and value their advice and ideas. Therefore, getting the team and culture fit right for your business is crucial. When selecting a PR team, look for personality, drive, ideas and their ability to demonstrate results to determine a good fit.
Another important attribute is the ability to think on their feet. Your PR team should work seamlessly as an extension of your marketing or digital team; sharing the same common goal as you, understanding where their role fits in with the wider business and the challenges against them with a clear idea of how to overcome them. With the lines blurred between marketing and PR through digital media it is even more critical to get that team fit right.
5. Ability to demonstrate results
When speaking to prospective PR agencies, ensure you ask how they’ll be measuring the success of your campaign so that you know exactly what you’ll be getting for your investment. This can be done in many different ways according to your campaign goals. Metrics are an essential part of determining campaign success; for example is PR targeting who you set out to target? How influential are the channels used? How many people has it reached? Has the coverage been shared across social and digital channels to expand reach?
And what impact could this have had? For example, does the earned media contain links to landing pages, white papers or event listings so that you can measure the direct impact? Of course, measurement should loop back through agreed campaign targets such as volume of coverage, numbers of spokesperson interviews, key messages communicated and demographics reached so it’s important to be clear and agree on these from the outset.
A PR strategy will ideally align with a marketing strategy to maximise any paid ad spend, webinars, events, white papers or social media campaigns. The rule of seven states that it takes a customer an average of seven interactions with your brand before a purchase is made, so your PR and marketing efforts need to work together efficiently.
The best relationships between marketing and PR teams are those that foster collaboration with a shared desire to continually meet and then push goals further.