How to pick a PR agency you’ll love

Sandra Stewart | March 1, 2022
Woman looking indecisive

Photo by Delmaine Donson

Finding a PR partner is a bit like dating—while there’s someone for everyone, not everyone is for you. Swiping right on the ones that instantly appeal is just the beginning. It takes deeper exploration to find a strong match. It helps to know what’s truly important to you. And yeah, you should let your friends know you’re looking.

Drawing on insights we’ve gleaned from clients as well as our own side of the dance, here are our top three tips on how to pick a PR agency.

1. Ask a journalist

The first time a prospective client told me they were referred to Thinkshift by a journalist they knew, I was gratified (naturally)—but also impressed. That’s a genius way to assemble a shortlist of PR agencies. Of course ask colleagues for recommendations, search the B Corp directory and explore your LinkedIn network. That will help you find potential fits among a vast universe of possibilities. But if you want to be sure you’ll get productive media outreach, consult people at the media outlets you want to appear in. Editors and reporters who cover your field can tell you whose pitches they welcome and who makes their job easier.

2. Look for field and values alignment

Most people vetting PR agencies look for expertise in their sector or a related one, for good reason: A PR partner that’s savvy about your business environment and has established relationships with key reporters in your field certainly will get you off to a faster start. Less obvious to some is that the PR world has its own subspecialties, and you may need one of those. Consumer product PR, for example, requires a particular set of strategies and relationships that not every agency has developed. A product PR specialist, on the other hand, probably won’t be a great choice to drive a thought leadership strategy.

For mission-first enterprises, values alignment and experience with impact clients is just as important. People often come to us after working with PR firms that didn’t get their goals and market. Agencies that have never worked with clients who care as much (or more) about impact as they do about profit often have trouble truly understanding what an impact client is trying to achieve and positioning them effectively. (See what we’ve learned about that over that past 10 years here.)

3. Expect vetting to be a two-way street

If you interview an agency and they don’t ask you at least as many questions as you ask them, be concerned. To understand if and how they can help you, a PR agency needs a clear picture of your business circumstances, opportunities and challenges, overall marketing efforts and goals. That’s a long conversation—probably two or three. But it’s necessary for them to determine if you’re a good fit for their expertise and to set realistic expectations. We feel so strongly about giving clients forthright counsel at all times—even before they become a client—that it’s part of our ethics policy.

The right PR partner can get you valuable media coverage, build your brand and guide you safely through minefields; the wrong one will burn through time and money. So when it comes time to pick a PR agency, it makes sense to treat the task with the same care you would any search for a meaningful relationship.

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