You only need to have selected the wrong agency once to know how painful the break up can be when it doesn’t work out. But when you find The One, everything falls into place. You just ‘get’ each other, it becomes an effortless partnership, and you feel confident that you are in safe hands.
I have been to a number of pitches (which can sometimes feel like an awkward first date), and I have been privileged enough to have worked with some of the industry’s finest PR professionals. Over the years, I have gathered some great advice from the companies that I have had the privilege of pitching to. I hope that these tips will help you navigate the pitching process, make an informed decision and find your perfect agency match:
- Use a scorecard to ensure that you evaluate the agencies fairly. This can be extremely helpful if you have more than three agencies pitching to you in a short space of time. Think about the things that will matter most, like output, strategic thinking, level of specialisation, pricing and chemistry. Rate each agency on a sliding scale so that you can compare them later. Agencies are increasingly interested in understanding why they weren’t the vendor of choice – so this might help you share your reasons for not selecting them.
- Test whether the agencies understand what you do. This may seem obvious, but if what your business does is specialised, you need to ensure the agency you select has a good understanding of your products/ services, processes, people, revenue model and target audience. Do some research and, if there are any in your particular sector, invite niche agencies to pitch.
- Make sure they can translate the business value of your products or services. This applies especially to tech businesses and those with complex B2B offerings. This is where great agency-side writers add real value. It’s their job to take what you do, internalise and distil it, and then write content that clearly shows the business benefits of what you offer. Your audience might be the IT director or CIO, but don’t forget that you also have to win over the CEO and CFO among others. Translating your message across platforms is important here – blog content is written very differently to an article for media or a case study for example. Ask to see samples of the kind of writing you expect.
- Ask them to prepare a campaign plan. Giving the participating agencies the same campaign brief and asking them to talk you through how they would approach the challenge, will give you a good idea of how they think. It also gives you the opportunity to question their ideas. Pay attention to what they measure, how will they ensure that their PR plans will help you meet your business objectives?
- Investigate the quality of their media relationships. If you know the type of media you would like stories about your business to appear in, find out who the relevant journalists are and call them for references on the agencies pitching. And while you’re at it, why not ask the agencies for a recent case study or some client testimonials for reference.
- Don’t assume that bigger is always better. Think about what you would like PR to achieve for your business. What are your objectives? Do you really need a big creative campaign or should you focus more on a highly strategic one? Niche local agencies are disrupting the market by delivering sound results.
- Interrogate their pricing model. Brand elevation takes time, so a long-term partnership, with measurable outputs is key. Your agency should encourage you to spend time talking to them, rather than billing you for your strategic input. Look for an agency that can offer you natural co-operation without the time swapping model that makes you think twice before calling them.
- Ask them how they integrate traditional PR with other channels. Social media and other digital services are fast becoming part of PR content strategies. Find out what each agency offers in these areas. How will they help you get as much mileage and depth from your PR as possible? A solid understanding of SEO should be the minimum requirement in this regard.
- Introduce them to decision makers. Invite colleagues who will be interacting with the selected agency to meet the contenders and compare notes. Getting everyone on board at the start, and making sure they are happy with your selection, is vital to a successful client-agency relationship.
- Evaluate the chemistry. Ask each agency to bring the team that would work on your account if they were to be selected. It’s all too easy to be wooed by the rainmakers who promise excellence and then send in the juniors to deliver. Interact with the team and note how you feel about them. Is there chemistry? Will they go the extra mile for your brand? Are they hungry and committed enough? This should be a big part of the decision-making process, especially if two or more agencies score equally in other areas.
- Where will your brand will be in the best hands? As a customer, it’s important that you know that your PR agency has your best interests at heart and will take ownership of the way your business is portrayed in the media. Can the agency handle a media crisis if needed? Do they have experience in this regard? Will they be available 24/7 if a crisis does occur? Will they take full accountability or would you become just another client in the cue?
Selecting a PR agency can be a daunting process, and a lot of it comes with experience, but I hope that these tips will make the road to finding true client-agency love that little bit smoother for you in future.