"Strategies For Choosing and Using a Public Relations Agency"
by Pauline Bartel, M.A.

When a business periodical profiles a local businessperson, the article scores points for the individual’s company. When a business owner discusses an industry innovation on a segment of a television news program, colleagues cheer on the sidelines. When an announcement about a corporate achievement appears in the business section of the local newspaper, customers and prospects perceive the company as a winner.

Publicity begins the process of brand building and develops top-of-the-mind awareness among your target audiences. Publicity is one of many public relations strategies that can be used to kick off a promotional campaign for a business. However, executing promotional strategies well requires skill, practice, and persistence. If you lack the time or talent to promote your business while running your business, you might consider adding a public relations agency to your team. Consider this game plan:

Know Your Goals

Whether you’re converting a portion of advertising dollars into resources for publicity or you have a separate budget for public relations initiatives, you’ll make the most of your investment if you know your goals. Do you need strategic counseling to construct a promotional plan? Do you need tactical support for specific publicity projects? Do you need media training for company spokespersons?

Develop a written list of goals. Include your most-immediate needs as well as blue-sky initiatives. Then prioritize your goals in order of importance. This list will serve as a guide for the discussions you will have with the public relations agencies you will consider.

Scout the Best Talent

Full-service public relations firms provide an array of services, including corporate communications, community and media relations, product publicity, lobbying, and crisis management. Boutique public relations firms provide specialized services such as event planning or book promotion. Some boutique firms offer their services only to companies in particular industries. For example, a boutique public relations firm might specialize in handling emerging companies in the technology field.

The decision to work with a large firm or a small agency is driven by your goals. Bigger is not necessarily better, especially if you need the personal, hands-on approach of a seasoned independent practitioner.

Ask for referrals to public relations agencies from colleagues, Chambers of Commerce, or industry trade associations. Request from each public relations agency a portfolio of background information or a qualifications kit. If the agency has an Internet presence, visit the Web site. Review the materials carefully to determine the agencies that have the best blend of skills and experience that you need for your team.

Schedule Tryouts

Request an initial meeting with each of the agencies that seem to be the best candidates. During the meetings, the firms will ask about your needs and goals and will present their capabilities. You will have the opportunity to evaluate each firm in a number of areas. For example: Does the agency have experience representing other companies in your industry? What is the experience of the practitioners who would be working directly with your company? How would the agency address the goals you have presented?

In addition to evaluating qualifications and technical experience, assess the personal style of each agency’s representative. Does the representative engage in active listening? Is he or she comfortable holding an open, give-and-take discussion with you? Does the representative understand industry-specific language and terminology? Is he or she someone with whom you would be comfortable working?

Choose two or three of the agencies that seem to offer the right combination of skills, experience, and personal style and request that each firm prepare a proposal directed toward your main goal. Along with the proposal, you’ll receive a list of the agency’s past and current clients. You can use this list to conduct a reference check. After you’ve reviewed the proposals and completed a spot check of references, select the agency that demonstrates the best understanding of your company’s needs and goals and the one that possesses the expertise required to get the job done.

Don’t Fumble the Ball

Once the public relations agency joins your team, make sure that you don’t fumble the ball. Don’t become the nightmare client. The nightmare client signs off on a completed project then decides that the project needs total revamping. The nightmare client swears that he or she will call back a reporter and then neglects to do so. The nightmare client forgets to forward revised materials or updated information to the public relations firm and ignores phone messages from the agency.

Be a team player. Provide approvals in a timely manner so that projects can move smoothly toward completion. Sign off on completed projects only when you are certain that the work is good to go. Keep promises to return phone calls or to deliver information or materials when requested. Huddle at regular intervals with the public relations agency so that all players in the game know the score.

You can kick off a promotional campaign for your business by using various public relations strategies, including publicity. Publicity contributes to brand building and fosters top-of-the-mind awareness among your customers and prospects. If you lack the time or talent to promote your business while running your business, hire a public relations agency. Together, you’ll be a winning team.

Author Bio:

Pauline Bartel is the owner of Bartel Communications, a Waterford, NY-based company that builds the image of companies with words. Pauline specializes in corporate communications, including writing and editing, public relations and marketing, training and professional development and in commercial writing and publishing in the magazine and book fields.

Copyright © 2003 by Pauline Bartel
All Rights Reserved

Contact Details

Bartel Communications Inc.
12½ Division Street
Waterford, NY 12188
Telephone/FAX (518) 237-1353

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