Gini Dietrich

Hiring a PR Firm

By: Gini Dietrich | January 24, 2011 | 

There has been quite a bit of discussion here of late about the PR industry; why Doug Davidoff thinks we don’t have a seat at the proverbial table, why The Economist is completely off-base about our industry today, and why Les McKeown is tired of hearing about the shiny, new penny from PR professionals.

Because of all of that discussion, and because I know a good majority of business leaders have written checks to PR firms and have nothing to show for their money, I thought it’d be a good idea to define what one should look for when hiring a PR firm.

So this blog post is written for those charged with that task. If you’re not that audience, but a PR professional, I’d love to hear what you would add to the list.

For the Business Leader

You see your competitors in the news all the time and you want that to…but you can’t find a PR firm that is capable of handling that one small task. What do you do?

Sure, they show a lot of activity and you see weekly reports on what your firm is doing, but, at the end of the day, you’ve seen no change in sales or growth due to the PR program. And your competitor keeps getting news coverage and no one is paying attention to you.

Before you blame your firm or fire them, there are two things to consider: The efforts of your firm are reliant on your organization and, if leadership doesn’t support the efforts or you don’t have someone on your side supporting them daily, then you’re partly to blame.

But, if you are providing those two things, then following are several questions you can ask as you consider hiring a new PR firm. Some of them will be more important to you than others, but they’ll give you a great foundation for discussion…and decision.

  • Do they have experience in your industry?
  • Do they have experience doing what you think you’d like (i.e. social media, events, crisis, speaking engagements, traditional media, email marketing, etc.)?
  • Can they do more than “get you in the news”?
  • Do they do their own PR?
  • Google the leaders; do they have a strong online presence?
  • Do they open their doors and windows and let their clients in by demonstrating their culture from the bottom up?
  • Do other writers and bloggers cover their leaders and the firm (which shows they’re well-respected by their peers)?
  • Are they willing to give you a reference of a client who fired them?
  • When you meet with them, do they talk about the tactics (i.e. social media, events, crisis, etc.) or do they talk about your business with you?
  • Do they talk only about social media or do they talk about strategy and how the new tools fit into (or don’t) your business goals?
  • Do they discuss your marketing efforts in order to help you understand how to integrate PR into the overall strategy?
  • Are they process-oriented or results-oriented?
  • Are they asking the right questions about your business goals?
  • Do they have specific metrics that are tied to your business growth goals?
  • Can they demonstrate where their efforts have helped another client reach their business goals?
  • Do you get to meet everyone you’ll be working with, including the interns and subcontractors?
  • Do you like them?

When it comes down to it, we do business with people we like and working with a PR firm is no different. Because your firm is going to need help from you or someone on your team every day to reach its program goals, it’s important you like the team.

But please do your homework, be honest about your expectations, listen if the professionals tell you your expectations are out of whack (but helps you realign them), and take the time to hold your firm accountable.

Image courtesy of The Huffington Post

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.


I waited to respond to this post, wanted to see what others had to say. 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 we do and how we do it varies as well. As those responsible for new business development and responding to the initial client requests, we need to ask some tough questions too. Things like:
1. Why now?
2. Have you worked with an outside firm before? Why are you looking to change?
3. What are your expectations of your public relations efforts?
4. What do you consider to be your success measures?
5. 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.

And as you pointed out in the last paragraph -- do your homework and be honest. In truth, that applies to both the client seeking to hire a firm and the firm looking to do the work.


I recently advised someone to not accept the PR proposal for $3,000 per month since it really had no way of showing how they would track effort other than hours. They were simply selling that they could get you interviewed in the press. Thanks for the post. I wish I had it to show to that company a while back.


Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

This was so timely you have no idea!

One of my clients who doesn't have a big budget is in need of contracting a new PR person. Last one didn't work out so well. So after she found 5 who would work with her budget and she liked, now as her Marketing Director she wants me to interview them. Just gave my first interview. This was a huge help. First thing I did was Google. Most had little footprint. But did find some things worthwhile beyond LinkedIn. Not sure if that is good or bad to have a big Google footprint.

One though needs to fix his footprint because I want to see PR stuff. And instead he is very much out there in a very polarizing area of Politics. Sadly the side I don't think I can work with him because of. So I am going to give him the interview but I feel I have to disclose this issue with my client. Luckily he is tomorrow. Today 2 more normal peeps LOL But I think it is important for everyone and their business if I google you, it should be a ton of Business entries coming back or achievements. Seeing a new article that you climbed mount everest I want to see. Other stuff not really.

Sales is the same thing. People do business with who they like. If everything is equal among, product, price, quality, the person they like gets the order almost always.

Wish I was snowmobiling instead like the3 peeps I am watching out my office window! LOL Oh wait its 3F. nevermind.


One other MAJOR consideration: Does the PR firm have a firm understanding of the laws that control -- and limit -- the content of advertising material?

The many FTC Guides are merely one starting point [ http://goo.gl/1C53 ]. A PR firm must also understand copyright law, trademark law, false advertising law, right of publicity law, and other related bodies of law. Way too many dumb advertising mistakes occur because PR folks get carried away with their creativity w/o considering the legal consequences.


I like this post a lot for several reasons. First, this is where I focus my writing because I'm far less interestied in chatting with SM pros than I am finding out what my clients need - which is to say getting a dialogue going with real businesses. Second, if the industry is oging to change it's probably gong to be because consumers of the product insist on more value fo rtheir money (ie, the Free Market(tm) actually works!).

Thank you. This is good stuff.

John Falchetto
John Falchetto

It seems that business leaders often see PR as the poor cousin of advertising. The big media budgets go into creating awareness through above the line campaigns, TVCs and then they look at PR retainer fees and think OMG! It can be a tough one to prove ROI for PR activities, media value of coverage doesn't equate directly to sales (as you pointed out).
I think setting clear expectations of what PR does to a client's brand is important and that building brand awareness doesn't happen overnight.


How bout: "do you feel as if you are hiring a business partner? or do you feel as if you are checking the box marked 'PR firm'."

But yes, good list...also, social proof is vital these days, too.


ginidietrich moderator

@AbbieF Dear Abbie, Please copy and paste this, add some additional information, and send to @lisagerber and me as a guest post!

ginidietrich moderator

@Marketing_Guy There are lots and lots and lots of PR firms who charge $3,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 a month for activities. This discussion goes back to what @dougdavidoff said in his guest post: Let's focus on results...how we get there no one cares.

ginidietrich moderator

@HowieG I included the Google footprint because I think it's so important to practice what you preach. I used to think we should focus on client work and not worry about ourselves, but then I matured and realized people not only want to work with people they like, but also those are are perceived successful. Would you rather have the firm that everyone knows and likes or one they've never heard of?


@HowieG If the PR firm is funneling information to journalists then what must be considered, but very often is not, is how the disclosed information affects the client's legal status within the marketplace. In short, what is the impact of that information on the marketplace?

The "proper disclosures" you mention may include caveats as to forward looking statements [regulated by the SEC], the required prior disclosure of press releases to the NASDAQ [ http://goo.gl/Pz0Pp ], consideration of restrictions on information disclosures imposed on the PR firm's client by contracts -- implied or express -- with the client's partnership companies, consideration of the filing of patent applications prior to disclosure of the client's new products or services, consideration of trademark matters if the information discloses new branding, consideration of antitrust issues if the information discloses partnerships or joint ventures with competitors or companies in the vertical distribution chain. And other stuff.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@ballard_ip Would this be industry and scope of work specific wouldn't it? If a client of mine (I do marketing/advertising) just wants coverage by journalists (national and local news and publications) as the main PR driver aside from no bribes and proper disclosures would there be much to worry about?

ginidietrich moderator

@wabbitoid I think you're right - we have to bring more to the table than media impressions and advertising equivalencies.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@wabbitoid PR and Advertising/Marketing are the most fuzzy with proving ROI aside from when disaster strikes and the client needs great advice and proper face. Then its like 1000% lol. Everything else is so measurable but these two are very hard.

ginidietrich moderator

@John Falchetto I agree, but I also believe there is so much more we can (and do) affect that we don't measure. With digital communication, we can measure every little thing we do. Why not take credit for increased sales instead of just increased brand awareness?

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@John Falchetto I agree with setting expecations John. As for poor cousin depends on the business. Often Marketing and PR are both poor cousins to the sales teams. Especially for B2B. But that said PR has one advantage over Marketing. They take the reigns in crisis management and I am sure in such times get huge praise and elevation.

I mean the President's Press Secretary is not a cabinet position like Secretary of Defense. But to think what that person does as the face of the President taking questions way more than their employer. I bet when the big 3 auto CEOs had to testify in front of congress they wished they could of sent their PR head instead.

ginidietrich moderator

@Area224 I absolutely think social proof is vital. It always makes me laugh when a PR firm claims to know how digital communication works, but they don't use the social tools. Give me a break.


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