Hiring a PR Agency: 13 Critical Insights for a Positive Experience

No matter the industry, kick-starting public relations for your brand is the natural next step in igniting presence and establishing a positive reputation. In this article, we’ll explain everything there is to know about hiring a public relations agency for your company. We’ll go through the whys and hows of using PR expertise to maximize your value and offer critical insights to consider.

published: June 13, 2024
updated: June 26, 2024

If you have been successful in building a brand, we assume you know the intricacies of brand development, marketing and sales, operational setups, and a list of other iterative processes that require strategic decision-making. PR is just another puzzle in this step, but one that has the potential to tie all aspects of an organization together. From improving products with customer feedback to marketing and damage control, PR is the key ingredient in maintaining sustainable growth when it comes to brand exposure.

The expansion of PR agencies has been linked to improvements in democracy, economic development, cultural dynamics, and media landscape maturity.

The good news about PR is that most start-ups and small businesses will have already seen the benefits of PR from promoting their brand through social media postings, word-of-mouth, and product releases.

To get the most out of a brand's unique offerings, PR agencies create specialized strategies on various fronts of external and, at times, internal communication.

Businesses hire PR firms for the same reason they outsource other tasks: efficiency and expertise. Think about hiring a plumber instead of fixing a leak yourself. Rather than putting together an in-house PR team, which will involve employing experts, investing in PR tools, and creating functional processes, hiring a PR agency means that they can deal with outreach logistics and crisis management with a fresh perspective, while you can focus on internal workings.

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What type of services do PR agencies offer?

PR agencies offer outreach services to promote a well-rounded image by disseminating information for optimal exposure, raising brand awareness, and steering clear of negative publicity.

These services cater to individual brand goals and objectives but tend to fall under four categories:

  1. Strategic communication and brand development
  2. Brand awareness
  3. Crisis response and reputation management
  4. Thought leadership services

Strategic communication and brand development involve communication strategies such as sending press releases, newsjacking, pitching, and generally having close involvement in media relations.

During this process, PR agencies build relationships with a network of journalists and influencers to help amplify your brand.

Brand awareness involves all things outreach. PR services like media monitoring and community relations are used to help create space for your brand. It also means existing and potential customers can create associations with your brand.

This entails creating and executing targeted media campaigns, organizing high-impact events, tracking website traffic, and social media metrics, and benchmarking against competitors.

Crisis management and reputation response are interconnected to all aspects of communication for your band. Using customer sentiments from media monitoring and the response from media relations, PR can gauge the possibilities of a crisis occurring, plans for damage control, and ways to reduce impact.

This involves being proactive in creating plans and reactive in making quick strategic decisions after the crisis.

Lastly, PR agencies help build thought leadership. This refers to using PR to position clients as industry experts. This is done by creating insightful content such as case studies, and white papers, hosting conferences, and arranging interviews with top-tier journalists. This builds credibility and establishes your brand as an authoritative voice in its field.

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Our 13 insights to hire a public relations agency

1. Affiliation with the media

One of the key benefits of hiring a PR agency is that they already have one hand in the media relations market. They know how journalists think, what they want, and their shifting perspectives.

This is why it is important to make sure you are choosing a PR agency that has experience and understanding of your industry (even better if they have a track record in your niche).

This way, you can benefit from PR teams' pre-existing relationships with the media, which typically take a lot of time and effort to build.

While PR can never guarantee coverage and revenue growth, hiring an experienced PR agency will give your business a better chance for success. It will eliminate the trial and error that can sometimes happen when PR teams lack experience in your industry.

Since PR agencies handle various clients, this provides them with multiple channels and opportunities to secure media coverage and exposure with past outlets. All in all, this cuts down the time and effort in-house PR departments would need to put in and assures that you start your PR game strong.

2. Consider the size and scope of PR services you need

Businesses often believe that PR is reserved for larger companies and corporations who need to manage their reputation amongst modern audiences, cancel culture, and virality. However, this is far from true. Businesses of all sizes can benefit from exposure and visibility. While not all PR services will make sense for small businesses and start-ups, depending on your growth objectives, PR is there to help with external outreach, no matter how many employees you have.

If you run a small business with fewer employees, it might not be the time to invest in a larger-scale PR agency. Look for a firm that understands your size and the unique value proposition of your business. The same goes the other way around. If you hire a small-scale PR agency for your mid to large-sized business, it will most likely result in overwhelming and time-consuming PR strategies and you won’t get the optimal exposure and brand awareness you might be looking for.

Try to match your business size to that of your PR agency. This way, you can benefit from the expertise of the right PR service while not feeling limited by a smaller team.

3. Integrate PR with marketing efforts

Investing in a PR agency means getting the added benefit of marketing. Due to the hybrid communication system of digital growth, there has been a shift in the PR industry with the newer technologies and practices that combine public relations with marketing efforts. While PR agencies don’t handle marketing in terms of advertising, the insights gained from PR strategies can be used for stronger company development plans and quicker reactions to changes in the market.

Most PR experts have knowledge and experience working in between professions. This advantage gives organizations better value for their PR investments because PR experts can bring vast amounts of interdisciplinary knowledge from journalism and marketing to their PR efforts.

This will ultimately improve communication effectiveness and provide optimal chances of PR and marketing success.

4. Get a fresh perspective outside of the company

It’s easy to think of PR as a simple, sidelined process for a business that can be done with a few in-house employees, especially if you have been through the process of starting a business from scratch. On the contrary, PR is just as logistical as it involves juggling stakeholders, the media, customers, and the wider public, each with their own needs.

For PR, quality above quantity is the golden rule. Efforts that don’t make an impact toward KPIs and overall exposure are wasted but when it comes to quality, data-driven strategies, a little goes a long way. Rather than wasting budget on infrequent social media posts that don’t generate engagement and pitches that don’t get picked by journalists, hiring a PR agency will give your brand quality tactics informed by data and sentiments.

This also means your brand can benefit from a fresh perspective outside the corporate image. While you and your employees might understand the ins and outs of your business journey, including the struggle, innovation, and value, it can be difficult to relay these narratives to audiences and customers.

PR agencies use accurate measures to reformulate and disseminate these perspectives with a clear understanding of internal values and external expectations.

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5. Factor in costs and budget

Large companies usually use an in-house PR department because they require more collaboration from internal and external departments. However, because in-house teams are impacted more by economic shifts, adapting to the right size of a PR agency is the most important specification for small to mid-sized companies that may have a smaller budget.

Hiring a PR agency is more budget-friendly than an in-house PR department because you won’t have to spend more on PR tools to track metrics and productivity and content creation software for teams.

With the ability of technology to improve work processes and collect metrics, hiring a PR agency with its own processes will give your business a competitive advantage.

Another key conversation around cost can be differentiated by the retainer model and service-level agreement (SLA). The retainer model is the monthly sum you pay to a PR agency based on scope and objectives, while SLA is based on deliverables. It requires businesses to pay by the amount of outreach activities over a month.

A retainer model is ideal if you’re looking for long-term PR strategies because it provides more proactive and holistic growth. However, if you’re on a budget, the SLA model will ensure that you’re getting nothing short of your money’s worth.

6. Reassess your brand values and goals

Internally, PR encourages businesses to reassess goals and have a clear grasp of what brand values mean for customers and employees. These are the key indicators to set your brand identity apart from competitors. Carrying out this assessment beforehand can help you choose the right PR agency and reduce the transition time when you hire them. The integration ensures the likelihood of success because it propels the PR team to position future strategies to meet those goals.

Whether you’re setting goals for a particular campaign or an overall company purpose, avoid vague language and broad goals.

Rather than “enhance brand visibility and reputation across target markets” go for something achievable and measurable, like “secure placements in three top-tier online technology publications within the next three months, getting a combined total of at least 500,000 views.”

PR teams will align these goals to overall business objectives, so the stronger and more assertive the goals are, the more precise PR services can be used to help you achieve these.

Reassessing your brand values and goals can also allow you to reformulate aspects you want to change or improve. Once PR gets the ball rolling on exposure and outreach, it will be less advisable to rebrand and break away from brand values.

7. Tell the PR agency what they need to know about your business

Consider the main priorities for how your business runs when it comes to internal and external communications.

While one of the benefits of hiring a PR agency is that it leaves more time to handle the logistics of the business, it is beneficial to integrate PR teams into your organization rather than having them work as a separate entity.

This will ensure that your business and the PR agency are working towards the same goals and that PR specialists have a better picture of your internal operations and target audience. It also allows for consistent messaging to ensure consistent and cohesive messaging across all channels, enhancing brand recognition.

This is especially practical when PR teams have to formulate proactive crisis plans and establish internal communication strategies for better engagement within the company. Response to crisis and the right line of communication is something that needs to be informed to all employees. When PR is let into the internal structure of an organization, PR teams can help extract internal brand identity to external communications and generate better narratives for the business.

8. Seasonal scaling

If your company is expecting seasonal changes in the sales process or needs exposure during different phases of a product's life cycle, PR agencies can offer flexibility that is economically and logistically challenging for in-house teams.

With seasonal branding becoming more common, tailoring specific PR campaigns to align with holiday seasons, product releases, or events can help optimize the exposure of these efforts.

These scalings have the potential to create high volumes of exposure in a short amount of time, and specialized PR strategies can help maximize customer reach and brand awareness. Accordingly, hiring a PR agency to handle these phases of scalings with short-term contracts means less money spent on creating an in-house PR department that needs more support and effort to maintain.

9. Set definite expectations

Closely connected to tip #6 about reassessing brand values and goals, setting expectations of what you want to achieve with PR is the next step. While PR teams will usually give their perspectives on the next steps for brand exposure during the initial pitching phase, vocalizing expectations of where you want to see your company in the months ahead helps estimate what is achievable and what is not. This will cause less confusion down the road with outcomes.

Deliverables are a great way to set expectations in the PR process. These refer to the scope of clearly defined objective-focused methods that correspond to achieving exposure outcomes.

These include press releases, content creation, media relations, social media management, and events. The vastness of PR can sometimes be difficult to grasp but deliverables are a great way to see the direct translation of what a PR professional does in their day-to-day management of your accounts.

When it comes to internal PR teams, however, they may have limited external perspectives. The singular focus they have can limit their understanding of choosing the right deliverables and insights that a PR agency can provide.

10. Anticipate regular communication from your PR agency

Hiring a PR agency lets you control how much involvement is needed on your end. If it means you want more of a general overview of your PR activities and outcomes, you can opt for quarterly reports that cover three months' worth of PR activities rather than monthly reports that cover immediate outcomes.

This can help plan for future objectives without constant attention and guidance.

Depending on your company's underlying focus, you have the opportunity to tune out of the PR management process or produce detailed reports yourself.

Hiring a PR agency assures companies of knowing that in-between PR activities are always happening outside of specific campaigns, events, and announcements. This will guarantee that there is steady progress in outreach efforts for consistent opportunities to improve audience engagement, be ready for possible crises, and have opportunities for partnerships and collaborations.

11. Breadth of services

Businesses are interested in whether an agency can handle all aspects of PR, including digital PR, crisis management, event planning, and content creation, providing a one-stop solution. Before hiring a PR agency, assess the kinds of services they have handled in the past. This is also a good way to assess the skill set an agency has and whether it is a good fit for the scale and scope of your PR objectives.

With technology and marketing increasingly shaping the PR industry, it is beneficial to choose a PR agency accordingly.

Rather than traditional reactive PR methods like focusing on mass coverage through press releases, and outdated digital PR methods like overuse of email pitches, and static social media content, evaluate trends in the market for the kinds of proactive methods a PR agency pitches to you before you hire them.

Keep an eye on mentions of techniques like predictive analytics models such as forecasting, customer behavior analysis, knowledge of Google’s Search Generative Experience (SGE), crisis detection, and overall measuring impact with digital PR techniques.

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12. Be clear about account handling

One of the main implications of hiring a PR agency is that companies have to rely on external organizations to fulfill promises, so you might not get the same control and alignment that you might get with an in-house department. To curtail this, ensure you know exactly who will handle your day-to-day account.

Normally, you will be assigned a team of PR experts, depending on the scope of the organization and its needs.

These PR specialists will maintain constant contact with your organization based on PR reporting which will give you a complete overview of the PR efforts and successes.

13. Experience with crisis management

Companies are concerned with how quickly a PR agency can execute strategies, especially in crises. Agencies often have the resources and processes in place to react quickly and effectively due to their expertise in developing strategic plans to limit the extent of damage.
While proactive PR has taken over traditional PR methods to include data strategies for outreach and marketing benefits, PR’s expert crisis management is often overlooked.

33% of board members say they are uncertain about whether their company has a playbook for specific crisis scenarios, with 18% answering no.

PR agencies help create proactive plans and pre-drafts of communications plans during a crisis, but more importantly, they can handle reactive crisis management by bringing clarity to the situation and crafting proper responses so as not to attenuate the damage.

Conclusion

If you consider these critical tips, you’ll see that small and medium-sized enterprises are just as likely to benefit from exposure as larger enterprises, if not more.

You can find the right agency with the correct breadth of services to make sure you are benefiting without sacrificing time and budget. If you’re looking for a PR agency specializing in PR for tech companies and startups that implement these critical tips, check out the extensive services that PRLab provides.

Whether you need to hire a PR agency because of budget constraints or if you’re hoping to benefit from pre-established media networks, PR agencies are a made-to-fit industry. Now that you know the critical questions to consider when hiring a PR agency, you can reap the advantages.

June 13, 2024
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