How to Select the Best PR Firm


By Laurie Leiker

You’ve got the next great business idea.  You’ve got the backers excited about your idea, the staff is in place and you’re ready to hit the streets.  Now all you need is a public relations firm to put that professional touch on your brand.  But you’re a business person; you don’t know the first thing about choosing a PR firm.  Don’t worry about it!  We’re here to help!

The first thing to remember is that bigger isn’t always better nor is the most expensive; sometimes, bigger is just big, with a big price tag to go with it.  Often, smaller boutique agencies are better equipped, more flexible and better attuned to you than a bigger agency, where you have to fit into their model, rather than having a model that fits to your needs.

Start with a list of potential public relations firms.  Get recommendations from your backers and other business owners in your field.  Don’t confine yourself to just local agencies; boutique agencies that specialize in your field may be in a different city, but are better able to handle your needs.  Check website such as PR News to find agencies submitting press releases similar to what your company is doing and add them to the list.

Next, put together your list of questions.  Here’s our considerations:

  • What experience do they have in your specific field?  Does the agency represent a wide range of companies in different fields or do they specialize in your industry alone?
  • Ask for a proposal.  Some agencies have a standard plan they use for all new clients but remember – it’s your company, so you have the right to see how they’re planning to represent you before you sign a contract and make changes up front so it better fits your needs.
  • Within the proposal process, is it all-inclusive or are there a la carte charges?  Hidden or unmentioned charges can come back to bite you so ask for everything in writing up front so there are no surprises.
  • Is there a guarantee?  If there is, run away.  A public relations agency can tell you what is likely to happen, based on their experience, but they cannot guarantee anything other than the fact that they’ll do what they say they’ll do in writing.  If they guarantee you a certain number of placements, they’re trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
  • What is their process for publicizing your company?  Ask about their “pitch” process; a pitch is the manner in which they approach you with an idea and then follow it through to the various media outlets.  Do they rely heavily on press releases or social media?  Do they go personally to the media outlets or do they go through websites like PR News?  Ask to see a few recent pitches they’ve done for other clients.
  • Ask about their top recent successful placements.  The agency should be proud of their accomplishments, so they should be excited to share them with you.
  • Ask about their top regrets.  The measure of a company is less about what they do right and more about how they handle it when things go wrong.  Each time something goes wrong, there’s an opportunity to learn a lesson, so looking at their regrets will give you an indication of how they’ll handle you if things derail.  Consider it a big red flag if an agency isn’t willing to share their failures along with their successes.
  • Ask about their ideal client relationship.  Does their ideal relationship look like one you’d be happy with?  If the agency basically likes to be left alone to do their jobs with little contact with you but you want more contact, there may be an issue down the line.  Getting the right feel for each other can mean the difference between success and less than success.
  • Reporting.  Make sure the firm you choose intends to report to you often to show you what they’ve been working on, what’s coming up next and the type of coverage they’re securing on your behalf.
  • Ask for references.  Any reputable agency should be more than willing to give you a list of references.  But don’t make the mistake of getting references and then forgetting about it.  Call each reference and ask about how the agency was to deal with, pros and cons, what went right and what went wrong.

Once you’ve done your homework, then weigh all the information as a whole.  The agency with the least number of red flags should be your best bet.  But remember – not every agency works well with every company.  What works for you might not for someone else and vice versa, so doing your homework is essential when choosing the right PR firm for your company.