Everybody wants PR, but what does it really mean to have a PR firm on retainer? Unless you have only a short-term need, such as handling an unexpected crisis, a PR and communications firm will be a long-term strategic partner and integrate closely with your marketing and leadership teams. If you want the most out of that partnership, you will need to find the best PR firm from among hundreds or thousands of options.
Three Questions to Ask Before You Start Looking for a PR Firm
Before you can find the right PR firm or even produce a short list, you should assess exactly what kind of specialization would best address your needs. For that, we find that these three questions are critical:
- What specific industry or subsector PR specialty does your company need? For example, RH Strategic partners with disruptors and innovators in the technology, healthcare and government sectors, with additional subspecialties, such as digital health, education and cybersecurity. We don’t do travel or hospitality. Your PR firm should be an expert in your industry and customers so that you don’t have to pay them to develop the expertise.
- Do you want a local, national, or international firm? The answer to this depends on the type of audience you hope to reach through PR. You may be looking to build brand awareness in a specific media market or to break into top-tier North American media outlets. Perhaps you want both. Your PR firm should have the contacts and experiences to target your specific audience or partnerships with networks like the Worldcom Public Relations Group that can extend your reach to a worldwide audience.
- What kind of services do you need? Every firm has its own unique suite of solutions, which could include a wide range of potential services — from strategic communications to media relations, social media management to digital content creation, public affairs to crisis work. Some marketing agencies list public relations as a service on their websites, but don’t specialize in it and therefore don’t have the contacts and strategic chops to do much more than send out press releases. That may be fine if you are primarily after a lead gen program but a mismatch if you are looking to grow thought leadership in the press or win over influencers.
Tips for Searching for a PR Firm
Increasingly, many searches begin with Google. Whether searching for a PR firm or a new takeout restaurant, a search engine will help give you a sense of what’s out there. A lot of information can be found online, including reviews, testimonials, lists of services, and more. In most cases, these searches will also lead you to PR directories that aggregate firms nationally and in your region.
Some of the best PR directories in our opinion are Worldcom Public Relations Group’s and O’Dwyer’s directories because you can filter by specialization and geography. Be wary of vast directory sites that appear on Google purporting to rank the best firms using a proprietary algorithm. These lists are riddled with errors and not assembled by real people who actually know the industry.
You can also get better search results by being specific. Are you looking for a cybersecurity PR firm? A digital health PR firm? A Washington DC public affairs firm?
Not everything can be found through a search or in a directory, however. A simple ask of your network can go a long way. Who do you know who loves their PR firm? Who have they worked with who got them great results? Is there another company in your market who gets amazing PR results and is not a direct competitor? Who do they use? A recommendation like this can narrow the results of a search or a filter on a directory down to a handful of top candidates.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
As you work through the questions in this blog and begin narrowing your search for a long-term communications partner, it is important to remember that chemistry is difficult to assess early in your search process but is an essential factor in long-term partnership and success. This is because all long-term partnerships like this are built on a foundation of mutual respect and shared understanding.
A PR firm is a trusted and strategic partner — not just a vendor or, worse, a vending machine. Don’t get so focused on grading firms based on specific criteria that you overlook business chemistry. Choose a partner who cares about you personally, your success in your job and your organization’s mission. Make sure you can see yourself working with the agency team day in and day out, excitedly exchanging ideas, seeking counsel, navigating difficulties and celebrating the big PR wins together.
RH Strategic is a Seattle and D.C.-based communications firm with a nationwide presence and additional global reach via membership in the Worldcom Public Relations Group. We provide strategic public relations for innovators in the technology, government and healthcare markets.