Hiring a PR Firm and Hiring a Client

By: Guest | February 28, 2011 | 

Abbie Fink of HMA Public RelationsGuest post by Abbie S. Fink, vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations. The recent New York Times article written about the problem with public relations, which was explored on Spin Sucks this morning, makes Abbie’s guest post even more relevant.

Late last month, Gini Dietrich wrote about what to consider when hiring a public relations firm.  She included a great checklist but talked mostly about evaluating expertise of the firm – the skill set and strategies they would bring to your organization.

If only having a checklist made the process easier.

I’ve been in the agency business a long time – reasons clients want to hire agencies vary. Their understanding of what we do and how we do it varies as well. And as those responsible for new business development and responding to the initial client requests, we need to ask some tough questions, too.

Things such as:

  • Why now?
  • Have you worked with an outside firm before? Why are you looking to change?
  • What are your expectations of your public relations efforts?
  • What do you consider to be your success measures?
  • What are your budgetary guidelines? – It is always tough to talk about money. But both sides of the equation need to know the answer — plans are flexible, should be based on results but if the client doesn’t allocate enough resources, the agency can’t allocate the kind of time and resources necessary to deliver on those shared results.

Yes, experience and know-how definitely matter when selecting a public relations firm.  After all, using the services of a public relations agency can help you create, build and protect your good name. And we know how important your reputation and image are to the success of your business, so selecting the right firm may be one of the most important and strategic decisions you can make.

Understanding how public relations agencies work can go a long way toward helping you appreciate why they function they way they do. Public relations professionals are similar to attorneys, accountants and architects who sell their talent and knowledge. We are business advisors providing counsel regarding public relations issues.

And once you do have the right agency on board, here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  1. Communicate early and often: Whatever guidelines you put in place for your consulting team, make regular meetings a priority. This will create a healthy dialogue with each member of the team, ensuring everyone involved – those on your end and those on the agency side – each share the same vision. An added benefit of regular meetings is the agency is top-of-mind when you need to communicate something new. It becomes a habit to include them in the company goings-on.
  2. Include them in the fold: Sharing your company’s high-level strategy or vision with the public relations agency is important. It is practically impossible for your public relations agency to be strategic about communicating a coherent corporate story if they haven’t been exposed to senior-level executives, corporate marketing plans, relevant research findings and the like. They look for opportunities, and knowing what your ultimate goals can only help.
  3. Confidentiality is key here. Your public relations agency can be trusted to keep this information close to the vest. As a professional standard, a client’s trust is pertinent to do an affective job communicating. You have to trust them and trust they know what they’re doing. These concerns should all be handled in the selection process. If you don’t trust your consultant, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

What do you think? Anything to add?

Abbie S. Fink is vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations, a full-service marketing communications and public relations agency based in Phoenix. Known for asking a lot of questions, she’s still trying to figure out the answers.

  • NancyMyrland

    Abbie, your points are very good ones. Making sure clients have a clear understanding of what a PR professional does, and what a Marketing professional does, which will vary with each agency, is very important. Over the years, I’ve talked to many who say to me “Are you still doin’ PR?”

    Well, as you can imagine, the casual “still doin” part is interesting in and of itself, but that’s not the point of our conversation here. When I say, “Well, yes, Marketing, not PR,” they often say “Oh, ya, whatever.” That raises a red flag for me as it shows that many still don’t understand the typical distinction between what both disciplines do. I know the lines are blurring today more than ever, but my concern is more about having the conversation with the client so s/he understands what to expect from the professional they have hired to communicate for them.

    I don’t spend a good portion of my day working on media relations, so when my clients need help in this area, I will partner with someone like you to get the job done right, efficiently and effectively, while leaving those marketing and communication tasks that I do know to me.

    Good post Abbie.

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  • NancyMyrland

    Abbie, I made a mistake, and meant to type Public Relations, not media relations…sorry!

  • AbbieF

    @NancyMyrland Nancy — it is why, I believe, both sides of the relationship have to assume responsibility for its success. We need to continue to education about what we do, how we do it and how we need to measure it. The clients have to be upfront with goals and objectives, budgets, etc. All relationships take work — this should be no different.

  • NancyMyrland

    @AbbieF Absolutely Abbie! If businesses aren’t going to assume any responsibility, and just want to plop all responsibility in someone else’s lap, go right ahead, but certainly don’t be mad or disappointed when results aren’t what expected.

  • bdorman264

    @NancyMyrland @AbbieF Well, are you still doing PR………..:)? There is a definite distinction and as a lay person I would think PR is more for positioning and producing ‘goodwill’ and marketing’s immediate goal is sales w/ an implicit profit goal.

    As with both professions, know exactly what you want to achieve and make sure the results are measurable. Also, know when you are getting out of your area of expertise and falling in the trap of trying to do too much and ultimately looking bad.

    I think the checklist is an excellent way to determine expectations to ensure they will match with your capabilities.

    I would have posted but I had to make sure I got my good friend @NancyMyrland in the mix……………….:).

  • AbbieF

    @bdorman264 @NancyMyrland It is important for the client and the agency to establish goals and a clear path and direction to getting there. And when it isn’t working, a re-evaluation needs to happen. When both sides understand the expectations, capabilities and expertise come into play.

  • MimiMeredith

    Abbie, I’m sending this on to my colleagues in the corporate world who I know are considering agency help. It’s excellent, and I can hear your voice when i read it, which is even better!

    I have been in the role of practitioner, and I’ve been the client. But I think I must have been a rather difficult client. Maybe because I didn’t work through the great list of bullet point questions you posed, or maybe because it all became one more great complication instead of a corporate asset.

    My favorite point is number 2–the relationship with an agency has to be treated like that of a senior level staff position. My best advice to the agency would be, treat it like that. Be part of the team and part of the solutions and strategy. Don’t get distracted drawing attention to your PR prowess or proving your ROI. And please, making things look more complicated than they are to senior management does not improve your value in anyone’s eyes. It just makes you look like a lot of maintenance..and I’ll stop there, because I bet you all do the best work naturally and avoid the pitfalls that make Mimi’s List of Irritants (for a perky person, I have a lot of irritants!).

  • katerobins

    @AbbieF @NancyMyrland Good post, Abbie. We aren’t publicians and can’t make matters disappear or shrink, nor can we create something out of nothing or grow beanstalks to golden geese in the sky. The more successful we are at counseling management that their words and actions are their only real PR materials, the more material we’ll have to build them towering public perception landmarks.

  • PR

    Communication is key! Abby your points on once you have found the right Public Relations Agency are right on. An agency can only do so much on their own. Giving them all the tools/ information they need to get the client to flurish is what is all about. If your PR agency doesnt know how do you expect them to react.

  • AbbieF

    @PR We can only be as good as the information we share with each other.

  • AbbieF

    @MimiMeredith Mimi — thanks for chiming in with the POV of the client-side. The “dazzle them with BS” way of managing the relationship never works. The agency should act as part of the team and the client should welcome them in.

  • ginidietrich

    I’m not sure I have a lot of value to add here because you and I have had this conversation multiple times. I love that you’ve added on to my “what to look for when hiring a PR firm” blog post. It’s so important that we think about who is the right fit for us to work with. Yesterday sarah lafferty suggested we think about our clients as we would if we’re investing in their business. Talk about a total switch in your brain.

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