By Robert Udowitz
Hiring a PR agency is one of the most important (and arguably critical) steps your organization will undertake. Without proper attention to and coordination with your organization’s overall strategic business plan, it is difficult to execute a successful PR plan – and almost impossible to find the right agency to support that plan.
Think about this way: a PR agency budget is very often the equivalent to hiring several full-time staffers. Wouldn’t you screen for new employees by scrutinizing their backgrounds, relevant experience, and references? Too many sour relationships can be attributed to the lack of proper planning, budgeting and screening on the front end in the hiring of a firm for short or long-term work.
We first advise clients to assess their organization to ensure it is structured in a way and prepared to work with, and support, an external agency. From there it is equally important to determine what it is you need accomplished from the agency and what budget you have to get the work done. Setting a budget is not as simple as allocating a line on your spreadsheet. The fees at one agency from the next will vary and impact the resources, and therefore results, of your plans.
Choosing a set of agency candidates today has become a more complex part of the equation. It used to be easy: approach all of the large firms or the ones you or your colleagues have either worked at or with. Today those agencies are endeavoring to integrate more with their ad agency cousins (through ownership) or have sliced-and-diced practiced groups into specialties that may or may not address your real needs. For example, the field of mid-size and boutique agencies, not to mention independents, should certainly be on your menu of choices and may very well be cost-effective.
You also shouldn’t take a leap of faith with any of your agency candidates and rely on their learning about your organization once they’ve been hired. You should expect your selected agency to hit the ground running, and bring with them a demonstrated experience in your industry and with the audiences you have identified.
How you evaluate the pool of potential agencies and make the final selection is the next challenge you will face, but that’s a lengthy discussion that’s best left for another post.
Robert Udowitz is principal, RFP Associates, www.rfpassociates.net