Selecting a PR firm: 5 steps to make the right decision.

Author:Schultz, Jeff
Position:Small Business CENTRAL

When a company chooses a public relations firm, it is selecting the professionals who will craft its image before clients and customers, the general public and the media. In a society in which image is reality, this decision can have far-reaching effects.

While referrals and personal connections are a good starting point in locating a public relations firm, they should not be the sole conditions under which an agency is selected. A company should first examine its public relations needs and its own corporate culture before beginning the search. The needs of the company will, in many ways, define the type of agency selected. There are five main components to consider when interviewing public relations consultants.

  1. Decide whether a large agency or a smaller firm is preferred. Larger firms offer higher staffing levels and, in some cases, greater resources for extensive, time-pressured projects. Smaller firms often provide more day-to-day involvement with senior-level counselors.

  2. Your needs should drive the scope of the agency selected. While some offer a full array of marketing services, including media relations, advertising, direct marketing, special events planning and community relations, others focus solely on a specific industry segment or on one area such as adversity management or product publicity. An advantage of a full-service agency is that it can provide consistent messages and themes in all communications.

  3. The firm selected also should have some experience in your industry. Aside from a shorter learning curve, this experience can be advantageous in terms of media contacts and operational understanding. A direct correlation, however, is not an absolute necessity. For example, business-to-business experience tends to be relevant in the professional services realm regardless of the industry. Importantly, there is a fine line between relevant experience and conflicts of interest; make certain the agency you choose does not cross it.

  4. A PR firm should not only be able to communicate your message to the targeted audiences, it should also be able to communicate easily with your company's contact person. In this area, corporate culture is very important. Firms that share the same structural philosophy will better understand how to work with your company. If, for example, your company operates in a very formal, vertical...

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