How to Find the Right Public Relations Firm

CATEGORY
(
Public Relationships
)
READ TIME
(
9 MIN
)
Date Published
(
March 9, 2021
)

Have you ever had news you were so excited about you wanted to shout it from the rooftops? Or, for that matter, a secret you desperately wanted to keep? We’ve all had experiences trying to control the flow of information, but there is a class of people who are better at getting the word out, keeping things quiet, or making sure the right people get the right information at the right moment. They are public relations professionals, and if your organization is in the public eye—or if you want to stay out of it—you might find yourself in need of their services.

What is public relations?

Public relations (PR) is exactly what it sounds like: the management of your relationship with the public. A skilled PR firm can help raise your public profile, educate the public about the work that you do, and build trust in your brand. If your organization suddenly falls under scrutiny or becomes embroiled in controversy, a PR agency can help ensure that your side of the story is fairly represented in the press. The best PR firms will be able to anticipate, understand, and ultimately shape public opinion about your company, regardless of the circumstances. 

What does a PR firm do?

A public relations firm guides your communication strategy, often—but not exclusively—by interfacing with the press. Within the category of public relations, though, is an entire ecosystem of sub-specialties: reputation management, crisis communications, speech writing, event coordination, social media management, messaging development, and thought leadership, to name a few. Before arranging media appearances or coordinating press conferences, a PR firm can coach you on best practices for interacting with journalists and build a press kit filled with the important background information that’s helpful for reporters writing about you. But these days, most full-service PR firms are looking beyond traditional earned media to help spread the word about you in innovative ways by, for example, booking speaking gigs to establish your reputation as an expert in your field, or crafting a personal voice for your social media presence.

Let’s learn more about these sub-specialties PR firms do. 

What PR services are available?

Reputation management

Every piece of information that exists about your company contributes to its reputation in the public sphere. A PR firm can help contribute to the constellation of information by creating their own online content about you, such as a website, social media channels, email newsletter, or blog.

Crisis management

You probably won’t be able to predict when a crisis could engulf your company, which is why it can be helpful to have a PR specialist on speed dial who knows how to craft a response that will address and manage the crisis without making it worse. 

Media relations

One of the most valuable services a PR firm can provide is a direct connection to journalists who trust them and are receptive when approached with a pitch about that agency’s client. The best pr specialists know what they are bringing to this mutually beneficial relationship with reporters, whether it’s access to their client roster or insider information on an industry. 

Social media

There’s a reason why social media is one of the fastest growing sectors in the tech industry: billions of people use services to connect with friends and family members and stay up to date on the latest news. For companies and brands, social media offers a direct line of communication with customers. Done right, a sharp social media presence can both enhance your brand’s reputation and expand your customer base.

Speech writing

If used strategically, public appearances—conferences, industry events, TED Talks—can be an opportunity to increase awareness about your company and boost your reputation as an expert in your field. A PR agency can help ensure that these chances aren’t wasted by helping you choose the right forum and craft the most effective message possible.

Press releases

The most basic, bare-bones method of getting news about your organization out into the world is via press releases, but even a press release can have pitfalls if it isn’t done right. An amateur might fail to highlight the most newsworthy piece of the announcement, send it to the wrong people, miss spelling or grammar errors, or make it so boring that no one will read it. A PR firm can help you avoid these mistakes by composing clear, concise copy and using their media contacts to make sure the news ends up in the right reporters’ inboxes. 

Event planning

Whether it is a product launch or a promotional party, events can be both a fun and functional way to raise awareness about your organization and engage people with your message. A PR firm can help coordinate all of the details, ensure the right people are invited to attend, and guarantee that the event serves its messaging purpose. 

Outreach

A PR firm can reach out to bloggers, journalists, or other influential individuals in your industry to advocate on your behalf or communicate the essential information about your company, product, or service.

Market research

Understanding the image in most people’s minds when they think of your organization is crucial to creating a successful relationship with the public. That’s why PR firms will use a whole host of tools—surveys, interviews, focus groups, and simple observation—to better understand the ways people perceive you, and the competitors you are trying to gain an edge over.

Media training

Think of media training as a kind of conditioning for the verbal gymnastics you might have to perform when speaking with reporters. It could involve a mock interview where you are asked tough questions and coached on the best way to respond without causing controversy. In addition to ensuring members of your team are ready to handle public scrutiny with poise, media training helps ensure that everyone who is representing your organization in public is on exactly the same page when it comes to your external messaging.

Internal copywriting

No matter your field, your team can either be your company’s biggest asset or its greatest liability. Happy employees will be your best advertisers and loudest boosters, but unhappy ones can be a serious drag on an otherwise efficient operation. Communicating clearly and consistently with your employees, and keeping them apprised of big developments in your business, will help your team stay invested in your organization’s success. A PR agency can help craft your internal communications in a way that will keep morale high and keep your team informed and dedicated to your common mission.

How to find the right PR firm

Now that you understand all of the instruments in a PR agency’s toolkit, let’s talk about how to find the best PR firm for your particular needs. 

  • Know where to look. Start the search for a public relations specialist by asking the people who know you best: your personal network. A ringing first-hand endorsement can give you a good sense of what it is like working with a particular PR firm. If you are broadening your hunt beyond your immediate circle, though, consider whether there are organizations similar to yours whose public profiles you admire and find out who handles their public relations. The PR Council has a nifty tool that will help you narrow the endless list of available public relations agencies by filtering for either their area of expertise or for your particular industry, location, size, and more. 
  • Determine a budget. The cost of PR services can vary widely, from an individual consultant with a monthly retainer as low as $1,500, to a top PR firm with a fee starting at $25,000 a month and going up from there. To narrow the field, take an inventory of your communication needs and consider how much you can spend on public relations, and whether a successful PR strategy might help your bottom line over time. 
  • Look for the right size of firm. Make a list of your communication needs: do you have any events scheduled for the upcoming year? Do you need help with your social media? Are any potential crises looming somewhere on the horizon? Are you hoping to get media coverage of an impending announcement? Once you know your needs, you can narrow the list of potential public relations partners. A big, fancy PR agency might offer services you won’t need, while a smaller, boutique firm might be more eager to earn and keep your business. On the other hand, a small firm might not have the resources and personnel to handle a big product rollout or surprise crisis the way a larger, more established agency would. It all depends on your particular needs.
  • Make sure the PR firm understands you. Whatever size firm you ultimately decide to use, just make sure that you are clear with them about the vision of your business. If they understand you and your organization, they can help anticipate your communication needs.
  • Find out who you’d be working with. It’s important to make sure you know exactly who your point of contact is at the PR agency you hire, and that you develop a good relationship with them. Make sure that whoever you’re working with—whether it’s the person whose name is on the company’s letterhead, or a junior associate assigned to your account—you trust that person to speak on your behalf and are confident they understand your organization implicitly.  
  • Nail down expectations. Make sure that you are crystal clear about your expectations for the PR agency whose services you’re retaining. What results are they promising and how will you measure their success? What is their track record for media placement? What kinds of relationships do they have with which journalists, and how do they leverage those relationships? If you need to arrange events, can they help and in what ways?
  • Ask for a public relations proposal. One of the ways to get on the same page about expectations is to get a PR firm’s proposal in writing. Any proposal should include a clear explanation of the objective you’re both working toward, the best strategy to achieve it, and the various tactics the PR firm plans to employ to get there. The objective should be specific, tangible, realistic, and promised by a specific time.
  • Trust your gut. There are a lot of factors to consider when selecting a public relations partner, but at the end of the day, you should let your intuition be your guide. The PR firm you choose to work with is your emissary in the public sphere and your face in the press. Be sure to work with someone you trust and are confident will represent you in a positive light. 

Questions to ask a PR firm in the interview process

Finally, try bringing this list of questions with you when you’re ready to interview a PR firm:

  1. What is your specialization?
  2. What is your process?
  3. How do you get media coverage?
  4. What is your system for tracking ROI and analytics?
  5. Who will be my primary point of contact?
  6. Can I speak with your references?
  7. Can I see your portfolio?

Don’t know where to begin your search for the right public relations firm? Check out Rocketplace’s curated marketplace to find top-quality hires today!

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