PR & thought leadership

Need a PR agency? This checklist ensures a good fit

Carolyn McMaster | August 11, 2015

A company we know recently asked us for help. They had let their PR agency go, largely because the company felt the agency wasn’t delivering as promised. But they still needed PR. We weren’t a good fit, but I was able to help with some advice on setting themselves up for better results with their next firm.

Their situation isn’t unusual. Much of what we do is mysterious to the people who hire us, and prospective clients often have to take a leap of faith.

After talking things over with the company’s marketing manager and reviewing their former agency relationship, I shared this checklist for evaluating an agency’s PR proposal. These tips are all common sense—but are often overlooked when a company gets dazzled by promises of campaigns to unleash the brand and visions of articles in all the right places.

  • Make sure the firm understands your business goals as well as your marketing goals, and tells you exactly how the proposed work will support them.
  • Be wary of big promises. We never guarantee placements of any kind, for instance. And we never say clients are unique or best or first (unless we can prove it).
  • Be clear on how you’ll measure and evaluate results—and make sure you and the agency agree on what success will look like.
  • Look for a plan that’s focused (on a market, say, or on a particular PR strategy) and goes logically from phase to phase. Does it pass the Goldilocks test? (Just right in every dimension.)
  • Look for creativity in how they’ll position you so that journalists and industry leaders take notice—but beware of approaches that seem far-fetched.
  • Make sure you know what you’re paying for—the agency should be able to justify its fees and specify what it will do.

Cover all these points and you should have a good idea whether the firm will meet your expectations. But don’t forget: you’re working with people. This will be a partnership. Do you like and trust them? Are they enthusiastic about your organization and mission? If the answers are yes, you have a foundation for doing great work together.


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