9 Questions to Ask Before Hiring PR Agency

A successful PR campaign can help grow your business and gain awareness of your company. When considering a PR agency to hire, there are a few questions you want to ask to make sure they are a fit for you.

1. Have you worked on campaigns in my industry? You will get the most out of an agency if they have experience with your sector of business. You can ask for references from previous clients, and to see results from past campaigns. This can give you an idea of their industry capabilities.

2. Who is my direct contact/team members? You should know who you will be directly working with on your campaign. Ask who your contact person at the agency will be and who will be working with them. It is important to know your team and be comfortable with them, so they know what you want and what you expect from them.

3. Which media outlets are best for me? It is important for PR agencies to know who their client’s target audience is, and for an agency to have experience in traditional and new media. The agency you select knows the outlets that will reach your audience the best. This can range from traditional media placements, such as television and newspapers to online promotions as well as social media outlets.

4. How will your agency measure success? Before hiring a PR agency, it is important to know how they measure success. The most common ways that agencies measure success with a client is through media placements, and social media analytics. Social media analytics can be social media page “likes”, content reach, and follower interactivity. Another thing to consider when choosing how a firm will measure success is an increase in traffic to your website or increase in sales after a PR campaign

5. Will you provide media coaching? See what is being offered in terms of media coaching or training; this can be a valuable lesson to anyone who will be interviewed by the media. If the agency doesn’t handle media coaching directly, ask if they refer you to for an experienced media coach.

6. Are you experienced on social media? Social media is an important tool to reach many of your stakeholders. It is essential that you find an agency that is well versed in social media, and the social media trends. You can ask to see results from social media campaigns or promotions from previous clients, to gauge if the agency has success promoting a company in your field.

7. How will you communicate with me? It is important that your PR agency communicate with you on a regular basis. Usually agencies will send a monthly status report detailing what they have done and where they have placed your business, however it is still important for them to touch base with you on a regular basis in order to maintain a pulse on your campaign. You can ask how often you will be updated on campaigns for your company, and how often the staff will be available to you. You should also make yourself available to your PR agency, in case they need a quote, or approval in a pinch.

 8. What type of contractual arrangement do you provide? Most New York-based public relations agencies require a minimum contractual arrangement, such as six months, or, in the case of a specific project, time will be allocated against the project.

9. What type of financial arrangements? Most agencies work on a monthly retainer basis with time worked against the hours of the retainer.

How to Prepare for a PR Crisis

A crisis can happen at any time. And most often it happens when you are least prepared. And when it happens, there is no such thing as a small crisis. In today’s environment things can go wrong when least expected. Your CEO is accused of financial misconduct, your employee is accused of harassment, your product has a manufacturing glitch, your pharmaceutical has unforeseen side effects. These, and more, can catch you off guard and make your life, and the life of your corporation, miserable. The best laid plans are those that are penned in advance. Here are some recommendations from T.J. Sacks & Associates, a New York-based public relations agency with experience fighting the good fight for companies in a bad situation:

1. Identify potential crisis situation(s) in advance. Identify your potential internal and external weaknesses. Start doing your research early to see where your weak links exist and how you might possibly shore them up ahead of an event.

2. Do you have a crisis plan? If not, these are elements to be considered: Start researching and writing a crisis plan today.

a. Identify your key response team.

-Media train them early and often—ideally in front of video camera so they can get immediate feedback on their mock responses.

-Have their contact information on hand for rapid access.

b. Have written statements prepared for each potential weak area.

c. Make sure that no one but the key response team members respond to any media calls.

-Train your receptionists and phone people so they know whom to forward the calls to in case of a crisis.

d. Alert staff as to whom are on the response team—explain that these are the only people authorized to speak to the media.

e. Stage crisis readiness simulations.

3. Key leadership role. Start preparing early to develop and fine-tune your corporate leadership. Make sure they are comfortable addressing the media and have them “practice” during off-crisis times, such as when they are releasing earnings or when a product’s sales are doing exceptionally well.

4. Be prepared to respond to the immediacy of social media. Are you prepared to respond quickly to misinformation, accusations and distortions? Is your social team prepared or will they have to wait hours and days for “corporate” to sanction social outreach? Is your management aware of the potential damage that waiting on social media can inflict?

5. Review and update your crisis plan annually. Once developed, and the team assembled, they should meet quarterly to review their “action plan.”

6. Hire a public relations agency. I have been involved in a number of crisis situations reaching from an ineffective birth control device to a crisis of confidence for an infant formula to poor quality manufacturing practices to improper corporate practices. In each case, we worked to develop a crisis plan, train the response team, prepare media responses and act quickly and effectively on behalf of our clients.

Although a crisis is seldom averted, it can be dealt with quickly and efficiently once all your ducks are lined up in a row, so to speak. Remember, be calm when all hell is breaking out, be straightforward when the hordes are pounding at your door and be truthful and quick to respond when the media call. Your reputation depends on your planning for the worst and being grateful that it has passed.

5 PR Secrets I Learned From my Dog

Two years ago, I rescued an eight year old black lab named Leo—and as the adage says, he rescued me right back.  He was a 65 pound anxious wrecking ball who, when briefly left alone, ate my desk chair and raided my walk-in closet bringing out and destroying all my stored paper products and laying waste to a bag of potting soil and a toilet plunger. After the first few weeks, we were able to sort things out and develop a truce whereby I would help him get his mojo back and he would show me the wonders that are a dog.  Through him, I’ve learned the merits of unconditional love. I’ve also picked up a few important life lessons that can easily be applied to the workplace.  Here are five that apply to working better:

  1. Be loyal. Boy, when it comes to loyalty, Leo certainly scores high marks. But historically, there have been quite a storied dogs including Japan’s Hachiko, an Akita who is remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner which continued for many years after his owner’s death and Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye Terrier who supposedly spent 14 years guarding the grave of his owner. In business, loyalty is a huge asset. I have had both staffers and clients who have remained loyal to my company for many years, and as part of the equation, I find myself rewarding their loyalty.  For the staffer the rewards manifests itself in promotions and pay raises; for the client, in extraordinary personal time and results.
  2. Trust your instincts. On a very basic level, Leo has instinct that run like clockwork.  If I am not out of bed by my usual 7AM, he gently jumps up and nuzzles me at exactly 7:30 to get out of bed. He also reminds daily that it is time for his 4PM walk and Heavens forbid I am late for dinner, there is the nuzzle under my arm as I sit by my desk. Just like Leo, trust your business instinct.  You’ll know if the client is asking too much, if the editor is really on a deadline, and if your colleague is drowning and needs some extra encouragement.
  3. Persevere. Leo likes nothing more than the nearly empty jar of Skippy peanut butter as a treat. He holds it between his paws and uses him long snake-like tongue to patiently lick every remaining drop. The process takes him several minutes but by the time he finally relinquishes the jar, it is clean enough to be plunked into the recycle bin. Perseverance is a quality that all good public relations people must acquire. As with any PR agency, you have to have the ability to go after that new business lead, follow-up with that elusive journalists, pursue that client for input, or mentor that less experienced colleague.
  4. Be enthusiastic. Leo’s enthusiasm sometime just makes me laugh. He’ll run for the ball with such gusto as to run right passed it. And when eating, he gulps each meal as if it were his last. Not to mention when I return from a brief outing without him, his jumps for joy make me love him even more. Now I am not asking you to love your client, but I’ll tell you that a client will surely love you if you show enthusiasm for her company, product, ad campaign, and even her children’s photos that are lined up on the desk.  For a client’s birthday I once sent a humongous helium balloon with a small bucket dangling beneath filled with champagne and chocolate kisses. Everyone in the company wanted to who his PR agency was.
  5. Go outside and play. Even though Leo spends most of his time curled under my desk on his comfy dog bed, at the end of our day we are both ready to go out and play. I tell my colleagues that working in public relations is not like operating in a hospital. No one dies as a result of our profession. Therefore, take a minute or two, unplug from your computer and your cellphone and go out and play. Have fun!

5 Qualities of a Good PR Client

A bad public relations agency client is like a really bad meal—miserable but not life-threatening.

Still, it’s good to avoid them as much as possible.  And the best way to do that is to know what qualities to look for in a good client/agency relationship. So I present these qualities for your review:

  1. Good clients have a realistic budget. Unless the new client has had a former relationship with a public relations agency, he is likely to be clueless about the cost of a public relations program.  But, hopefully, a good client will realize that he has to spend money in order to make it.  So, it is your job to help educate him as to how you work: What is your monthly retainer? How much do you allocate to fees vs. expenses? What is the average length of your contractual arrangement? Good clients take the time to be educated.
  2. Good clients are interested in working with someone they can trust. When a client trusts you as a communicator they take your opinion seriously, especially if your opinion is contrary to theirs. No client likes to hear the word “no”.  But, after all, they have put their business in your hands and are depending on you to be the monitor of their brand image.
  3. Good clients are willing to accept advice. A good client is eager for advice, that’s why they hired a public relations agency to begin with.  They allow you to become a part of their marketing team—working with them and not necessarily for them.  I have had the good fortune of working with a number of good clients who have even sought my advice on matters from my opinion on their advertising campaigns to how they should appropriately congratulate their boss on his promotion.
  4. Good clients have a single point of contact. You’re on a deadline and you need that quick approval—who do you call—the client contact.  You don’t want to have to deal with several point people, when one will make your life so much more effective. Make certain that you get that point person, and then go on to earn their trust—they’ll be your client for life.
  5. Good clients participate in the process.  Now that you’ve got that point person, you want to make sure they remain involved and engaged in your public relations program– but not too much. An uninformed client is not a good client.  Assure them that part of your job is to make their job easier, and that you value their opinion.  A good client will review your monthly status reports and not merely file them—and if possible, you’ll develop monthly review meetings so that you keep the client informed.  An informed client is an advocate for your agency.