A public relations campaign can help your business enormously and it doesn’t have to be expensive. You basically have two choices when it comes to a PR campaign: you can either do it yourself or hire a public relations agency.

Assuming you can afford it, and assuming the agency is reputable, you can gain much by working with a PR agency.

An agency may be able to pinpoint aspects of your business that would be interesting to various publications, for instance. It can also allow you to focus on your day-to-day operations, and handle much of the work involved in running an efficient campaign.

Of course, there are disadvantages to using an agency, as well. First, it can cost quite a bit. You may be too small to justify the expense of using a PR agency.

Second, you will lose some control over your promotional efforts. Although the agency can do a great deal of work toward promoting your business, you do need to stay involved in the whole promotional process.

Even with these possible disadvantages, however, if you do not feel that you have the time and skill to organise a successful publicity campaign, it is better for you to seek competent, professional advice than to fumble with your public relations efforts.

Once you have decided to hire an agency to handle your public relations, you must determine which agency will provide the best service for your account.

Asking PR agencies the right questions

So you have decided you would like to use a PR agency for your business. Firstly look at the types of clients the agency represents. If the firm only handles very large accounts, you might need to look elsewhere. You also need to consider whether there will be a conflict of interest if the PR agency is handling a competitor of yours.

Find out how long various clients have used the agency. Do they have a fair number of clients with whom they have long relationships? Or do they have an unusually high rate of client turnover? If so, the clients may not have received the results they expected from the agency.

If an agency seems promising, talk to some of its current and former clients and ask them for their opinion of it. Did they receive the personal attention they wanted? Were they made to feel important to the agency? Did they feel that they always knew everything the agency was planning for their campaign? Did the costs justify the results?

After you’ve found two or three agencies which seem suitable, set up a meeting with an account executive at each agency. Be sure to ask for the executive who would service your account. You could speak to a smooth-talking, personable representative and end up working with an unenthusiastic, overworked executive who is more interested in serving some of his larger accounts than yours.

Have the account executive go over an actual recent account case-history with you. Have him or her explain the objective of that campaign, the strategy used to achieve that objective, and the results of the campaign.

Intelligent, inventive strategies will obtain the best results. Look at the various strategies used by each PR agency. Which approach do you prefer? Of course, different objectives call for different strategies, but you will probably find that you prefer one firm’s approach over the others.

Most importantly will you get clear reporting of activities undertaken and do you have expectations of the results that both parties agree on?

Catriona Pollard
BY Catriona Pollard ON 18 November 2011
Director, CP Communications, which provides specialist PR and social media strategies that achieve positive media coverage, increased brand awareness and improved sales results.