Kate Finley

Choosing a PR Agency: Ten Questions to Ask About Media Relations

By: Kate Finley | October 16, 2013 | 

Choosing a PR Agency: Ten Questions to Ask about Media RelationsBy Kate Finley

Making major decisions within your organization such as brand direction, where and when to expand your territory, a new product launch, or choosing a PR agency to work with can easily become taxing.

Decisions like these can be especially challenging because they tie directly into the success of your organization, but you have to give up control to experts who are not always working side-by-side with you.

Choosing a PR agency that cares almost as much about your business as you do is tough, but necessary because you really don’t want to decide to work with an agency only to be disappointed, fire that agency, and have to start the process all over again.

It’s just not fun for anyone involved and it’s exhausting.

The Process of Selection: It’s a Two-Way Street

There are many of us who have experienced decision-remorse and the street goes both ways.

Smart PR professionals know that bringing a new client into the fold is a process. It’s a process of communication, education, and expectation on both sides.

When choosing a PR agency, there are questions you can ask before committing. You can even go back and ask these question if you’ve already decided on a firm, to set expectations for all parties involved.

Ten Questions to Ask When Choosing a PR Agency

If you’re a PR professional, keep the below questions in mind as you begin to work with new clients. If you address them early on, you will be well on your way to a better client experience and agency relationship.

  1. How do you measure resultsWe talk about measurement often on Spin Sucks. That’s because it’s essential to the success of an agency in retaining clients and tangibly moving the needle on ROI. Tip: Media impressions and advertising equivalency alone do not move the needle and results they do not make.
  2. How do you stay on top of current events and trends? This helps you gauge whether or not an agency is growing and adapting or is instead using a more traditional approach. Are they actively researching and engaging influencers and uncovering new ways to add value to your organization?
  3. What will you need from our team? This ties into things such as, Will we need to create content or connect your agency with an expert from our team or will you manage those things? How often will our organization need to be available for meetings or interviews?
  4. How often should I expect to see media coverage? This question is HUGE. You can’t leave the answer up to interpretation. Even though an agency may not give you an exact number of times you will be covered by the media on a monthly basis (this isn’t advertising), they should be able to at least provide you with a range. It is absolutely and unapologetically unacceptable to pay a monthly retainer without receiving monthly coverage.
  5. How do you integrate media relations with other communication? This communicates  you are aware of the need to integrate marketing mediums and that you expect to keep from being siloed. This is also a great time to discuss how the agency communicates media coverage to you and your team so it can be leveraged and repurposed throughout your marketing channels.
  6. How else can you help our organization? This is a great tag-on to the above question. Yes, you’re coming to this agency for media relations, but it’s quite possible they are successful in other areas, such as blogging or social media.
  7. Why should we choose you? It may seem like a no-brainer initially, but this question can help you get a grasp of what differentiates a particular agency from another.
  8. Will we be expected to pay additional fees? I have heard one too many clients say they had additional fees tacked on to secure ‘media coverage.’ If you have to pay a fee for an interview or feature, that coverage is not PR … it’s advertising. Note: This does not include budget allowances for special efforts such as blogger reviews.
  9. Do you have contacts within our industry? If the answer is yes, ask to see the coverage the agency has secured within your industry. You may decide to choose a PR agency even if they don’t have industry contacts. In that case, ask for case studies in similar industries.
  10. Do you have client experience within our industry?  Choosing a PR agency that has had other clients within your industry is a major plus. That said, some clients see others in the same industry as competitors. To avoid a conflict of interest, find similar industries where the agency has experience.

Never Underestimate the Power of the Ask

If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be this: It’s OK to ask questions and you should.

Great PR agencies want to be a partner and asset to your organization. And if you’re finding that is not the case with your current agency, then it might be time to make a switch. Ask questions and try to understand how you and your PR agency can work together to further the success of your brand.

About Kate Finley

Kate Finley is the CEO of Belle Communications, an integrated marketing firm based in Columbus, Ohio, where she helps CPG brands and startups with PR, social media, and content marketing. She is a media relations expert, leading teams in executing more than 1800 media opportunities for industry leading clients, with coverage in NBC News, TODAY, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, and other top media influencers. She’s a Paleo-eater, half-marathoner, and recently acquired a taste for CrossFit.

  • Gee, thanks for scooping  me on my blog post, Kate. Now I have to table it for a few months until everyone forgets that you wrote this excellent post. At least you didn’t scoop my snazzy, show-stopping title.

  • EricPudalov

    These are great questions to ask, Kate!  And I get the feeling many clients don’t necessarily do their research (or do enough of it) before choosing someone.  That may take extra effort, but when you spell it out this way, it seems obvious.

  • Ask, and ye shall receive. Great post.

  • CommProSuzi

    I always get a little frustrated when job postings demand that a pr pro come with media contacts in the industry. Reporters and editors change positions. I once chased a business editor to 4 different publications. After 2008, many of my contacts were jobless.
    In my opinion, the more important skills to have are the ability to establish media contacts quickly, the ability to nurture those relationships regardless of the industry, and the ability to tell the client’s story to the media/advocate for the client.

  • BethMosher

    I recently was involved in helping to pick a PR agency for a board I’m on and so I’d add: who are we going to be working with? An important question for hiring any agency. We interviewed a number of agencies whose heads were well-polished in the interview and had a great deal of experience. But when asked this key question – the day-to-day client contact and lead was the person in the room who was silent through the entire pitch process. This question has been well documented before on this blog, but certainly worth adding again.

  • kaycook925

    This is a great post, and very helpful for someone like my self starting in PR classes. I am working on a blog analysis, and this topic/post you shared will be helpful and worth sharing with my class.

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  • Hey Kate, these are great questions – actionable and are the kinds of things that lead to a real conversation about what each side values. 
    My add: that values conversation you provoked in my brain. I think one of the biggest things a company can do when looking for deeply integrated partner in marketing / comms is to share their DNA, and understand the their potential agency’s. I find that trust is something many larger, conglomerate type agencies ignore, and it shows.

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