You Need a Public Relations Firm
When you are a smaller sized business, it is hard to justify bringing in a dedicated full-time employee to handle Public Relations (PR). Another challenge associated with PR is that it is often times hard to measure its effectiveness. You might see articles and company or customer mentions, but is that really translating into sales?
In this article, we’ll look at how to go about integrating PR as part of your overall marketing strategy.
Get Over the Price
Before we get into justifying bringing on a PR firm, let’s look at the cost justification first. On one hand, you might find a PR consultant who is willing to work for free or a very small fee. But then how do you hold them accountable?
You’ll have to bite the bullet and pay a retainer to a firm. In most cases, you are looking at a range of $5,000-$8,000 per month for a smaller agency.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the price tag. If you were to bring in a full-time person, you would likely pay this in a base salary, not to mention payroll taxes and other fully burdened costs. But you wouldn’t have enough to keep them busy on just PR.
Make a commitment to yourself to see this through for at least 6-9 months and realize that press doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. It takes at least three months just to lay the foundation for PR effectiveness. Once you are committed to this budget, it’s time to evaluate agencies. Many firms will also offer a trial period so you can test the waters.
Finding the Right Agency
When I did our search for an agency, it seemed daunting – where to look, how to trust an agency, will it be a fit? So I utilized my network and asked my contacts. In lieu of having contacts in this field, you can also turn to online networks such as LinkedIn.
Before you start speaking to agencies, determine what your goals are. But most importantly, try to find someone that specializes in your industry. The benefit to this is that they will have contacts in your specific trade publications. That helps you get your story heard.
Write down a list of questions you would pose to each agency and be sure to take down notes to help you narrow down your search until you find the best fit. Some initial questions could include:
- How long have they been in business?
- Do they have case studies of companies similar to yours that show client success? This is important because an agency might have success while working with restaurant franchises, but that does not necessarily mean they would be as successful running a similar campaign with a technology company.
- Are they already working with one of your competitors?
- What do they charge? Is it a monthly retainer or à la carte? This is also very important. Find out all of the costs upfront. Many firms will charge you a monthly fee, but then charge additionally for services not initially mentioned (writing case studies, bylined articles, handling your social media, putting together mailings, press kits, etc.)
- Can they supply customer references (and in your industry)?
- How do they measure success?
- Who will be working on my account? Another important item to consider. When you have your initial meetings, there’s a good change you might meet with several or even a handful of individuals that represent the PR firm you are interviewing. When you finally sign on, you could potentially end up only having one of those people actually be your account representative, or even someone you never even met. Make sure you meet with a variety of team members to be sure that the person who will be handling your account on a day-to-day basis is someone that fits with your company and team.
Expectations of the PR Agency
You may find different types of agencies out there – some that say they will allocate up to X hours for the amount they are paid, while some offer à la carte options and charge you for each press release or article they write. I don’t know about you, but it rubs me the wrong way to pay someone $1,000 to write a 500 word press release. Personally, I do not like paying per press release because then I become conscious of how many we announcements we put out.
My suggestion is to look for an agency that offers a monthly retainer with all or most services included, such as monitoring the news, developing your media lists, reaching out and pitching your stories to the press, drafting and submitting press releases, and most importantly – to help in justifying the monthly retainer – provide you with a monthly summary. This report should include what the agency did on your behalf for that month, in addition to the actual deliverables. It is a nice way to also see a summary of your interviews and press mentions, etc. each month.
Once you sign up with the agency, you will go through some initial questions and profiling. Take the time to think this through and do this thoughtfully. This analysis and planning process will help your firm figure out who you are, what you are selling, why you are different, and how they will represent you. Arm them adequately because these messages will be delivered through all communications including interviews and collateral.
I consider our PR agency a part of the team. As with any employee, you should be engaged with them throughout the week. Our agency holds weekly conference calls to discuss the results for that week and the following week’s priorities, activities and deadlines. Then they send a list of action items post call so we can easily keep track of any upcoming deadlines or immediate items that we need to move on. This not only keeps everyone accountable, but going back to justification – you have plenty of opportunities to ensure you are getting your money’s worth.
A PR Agency is Worth It
When I look back at the amount of press and coverage we have received, it is hard to imagine doing this without the help of our PR agency. Sure, we could have tasked someone part-time to send out occasional press releases – but I feel much more secure in knowing that there is at least one person (our account manager, and her chain of command) that is thinking about PR day and night – staying on top of the trends, and looking for opportunities to get us exposure – rather than being reactive.
Initially, it might be hard to justify this expense, but this is one decision I am very happy I made. Get a PR agency, and get them early on in your company’s life cycle. Even if you have been around for a while or even used other agencies in the past, you can still benefit from revitalization and re-positioning of your business. It’s all about perception, so take matters in your own hands on how the world perceives you.
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About Ali Din
Ali Din has over 10 years of product marketing experience. Currently, he is a marketing consultant, providing marketing communications and business development support for dinCloud, a cloud services provider that helps organizations rapidly migrate their IT infrastructure to the cloud and En Pointe Technologies, one of the largest solutions providers of IT products and services.