While dozens of PR agencies may seem to fit your needs, only a select few rise above average when it comes to doing the job. Here’s how to tell the difference between a good PR agency and a great one.
Looking for a PR agency to represent you? It’s important to first identify agencies in the right niche and that have relevant industry experience, to figure out the agencies best suited to your brand. Your second step is to have your questions answered: from their fees to their existing clientele, to avoid conflict of interest.
Your shortlist will still look good on paper but do your own sleuthing to evaluate whether they are any good at obtaining the coverage and brand exposure you want. Here are some tell-tale signs.
A great agency has its own quality brand
Great agencies only send great stories to the media, even if it means turning down some potential clients or saying ‘no’ to requests to pitch something. Having great stories is part of the agency’s brand, and the agencies that do not compromise on quality are the better ones.
This in turn means that whenever a journalist hears from that PR agent, they already expect the pitch to be relevant and of interest to them. This is the foundation of a great media relationship, and you’ll find opportunities will start to flow the other way: media come to them for comments and case studies because they know they are reliable, know what they need and don’t waste their time. When there is competition for the same airtime or article space, these great relationships are incredibly valuable.
Equally you don’t want your time wasted having a PR agency peddling something that is not newsworthy and then charging you for the time that they spend annoying media and not generating results.
A great agency does its homework
Great agencies are always learning. Do I know how to use heavy machinery, create digital display advertising, design furniture, build sales funnels, or perform dental procedures? No, but my clients do. A great PR agent invests the time to learn about these businesses, their customers, the industry they operate in, and what makes them the best in their field. Having this knowledge is great preparation for talking confidently to media, being able to create relevant pitches and help with articles.
The agency you choose should also keep up to speed with current affairs, industry news relevant to their clients, legislation changes, popular culture, what is trending in the news and social media, and important dates in the calendar. Not only does it mean they can pitch at the right time – they know when the news cycle is too crowded and so they should hold off – they can also suggest how clients can leverage what is topical and suggest ways to take advantage or show caution if necessary.
A great agency is not afraid of hard work
Great agencies are willing to put in the time to use multiple angles, speak to multiple types of media, and get lots of bites out of one cherry that way. They will also invest time and effort to unearth the hidden newsworthy opportunities in the less-than-obvious areas.
One way to tell if they’re putting in the effort is whether they send personalised pitches rather than an email blast to hundreds of bcc’d contacts. Even media announcements should be personalised and tailored to the recipient. Yes, this takes time and requires an understanding of each journalist and what they want and their preferences, but this is what you’re paying them to do! If they do the work, it will yield better results for your brand.
You should also note that great agencies don’t just work 9-5: they follow the media they want to pitch. If they’re trying to get you on breakfast radio, they are contacting producers before the crack of dawn; if they need to seize an emerging opportunity, they will work out-of-hours so they can send a press release sooner than the competition.
A great agency has great people
Great agencies have experienced people who represent their clients to the media. The more proactive the agent, the better – having done their homework they don’t wait for the client to offer news, they learn about them to identify newsworthy angles the client won’t have developed on their own.
Traits of a great agent include discretion, empathy and restraint. Not all news is good news, and it takes a seasoned professional with a good strategic perspective to handle that well.
Truly professional agents are also honest, especially when it comes to an angle or campaign that isn’t working. Changing course is not a weakness; an upfront agent will simply not waste your time with something that doesn’t work. Great ones can then pivot and adapt.
Any decent PR agency can talk the talk, but only the great ones can walk the walk.
Being able to tell the difference will mean hiring a PR agency that can find and show the best parts of your business and extend the mileage of your brand in the media and with their audience professionally and effectively.