How to Hire a PR Firm

I'm proud to have experienced many decades-long partnerships with clients that generated critical results with an added benefit of friendship and camaraderie. While longevity is not our primary goal, few businesses seek a consulting relationship for the short term. Unfortunately, some associations are doomed to fail from the start, even before the first call to our team-a frustrating experience for all involved.

I have outlined a few tips for hiring a public relations firm below. We hope these ideas will yield benefits to you and get you started on the right path to achieving your strategic communications goals.

Step 1. Define outcomes expected from your PR investment
Hiring a PR firm is like any expenditure or investment in your business. You capitalize that support with the expectation that you will see ROI in building your company's competitive advantage. But, if you expect ROI, it also makes sense to define-up front-the meaningful measures about how that return-on-investment will be evaluated.

Before you begin a search for a firm, ask yourself, "Why do I need a PR firm?" Be prepared to describe the challenges and opportunities you face and the expectations you desire. Stating goals as measurable objectives attained over a specific timeframe provides great clarity. Considering relevant audiences and desired behaviors is important, but providing performance metrics and established benchmarks is critical in helping the firm understand how best to meet your expectations.

Step 2. Determine and communicate an appropriate budget
Most of our clients are transparent about their available budgets and resources for PR firm support. However, some clients are elusive about sharing that information, particularly in a formal "Request for Proposals" (RFP) process. They prefer instead to request a proposal and blindly ask for budget insights, hoping for some miraculous revelation.

Requesting proposals with no budget guidance will likely deliver misalignment, wasted efforts and frustration. Scope and scale of a program can be highly speculative, and you will likely receive "apples and oranges" proposals under a range of budget scales that do not help you make easy or fair comparisons.

Step 3. Set clear expectations and anticipate challenges
Understanding and guiding how a PR firm delivers service to you is critical. Tell them your expectations about interactions, communications and reporting. Let them know who from your team is involved and advise them on review and approval processes. Cleary explaining expectations about what you need, when it needs to be communicated and with who will help you accomplish your goals with no surprises.

Step 4. Hire the partner that feels right
The best results are generated by firm/client relationships that feel more like a partnership than a hired gun. Therefore, you need good chemistry to build trust, confidence and to foster creativity. You should be excited about a new relationship with a PR firm and feel an immediate connection and trust. If you don't feel connected to the team, don't hire them.

Some firms "sell" with experience leaders, then immediately hand off all of the work to junior staff, never to be heard from again. Introducing the members of your service team during the vetting process is a sign that the firm understands the value of personal connections and that they have confidence in the people who will counsel you on a daily basis.

Step 5. If you must "RFP", narrow the field
RFP processes can be unwieldy, particularly if you invite a long list of participants. We suggest instead that you begin by making a request for qualifications (RFQ) from prospects. Then, schedule interviews with a short list of candidates. The effort put forth in these requests and interviews begins the valuable chemistry test and delivers insights about what types of PR programming strategies may fit for your needs. Then, if you must still execute an RFP process, you have a narrower field that is assured to give you direct responses and a clear comparison.

Choosing a PR firm is not about watching a slew of firms compete to serve you. It's about finding the firm with the right experience and resources for your budget. It's the firm that reveals an understanding of your needs and demonstrates how they will help you achieve your goals. And, when you feel that chemistry, you know you are on a path to success.