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.