Why hiring a PR firm is like finding that perfect pair of jeans
Is hiring a PR firm at the top of your “to do” list this year?
If so, you’ll soon realize that hiring the right firm is often a matter of finding the firm that fits you the best – just like that perfect pair of jeans.
One of the primary challenges with many startups tasked with hiring a PR firm is that they may not have ever worked with a PR firm, and might not know what to expect – or even know what to ask when evaluating a firm. Many companies hire tech PR firms by putting out an RFP or by asking for referrals – but that can also be a crapshoot, similar to when you order multiple pairs of jeans online and have no idea what to expect when they are delivered.
With the RFP approach, many startup executives that are extremely tight on time tend to get totally overwhelmed with the RFP process and don’t even have time to properly review the RFPs they requested. Quite honestly, in this day and age, it’s almost an antiquated approach to submit for an RFP and review one, as it can feel like getting bombarded with too much clutter, when instead, most of the relevant information can be found online.
So what is a good way to cut to the core and figure out how to find that great PR firm for your business that gives you that perfect fit right out of the gates?
Below are a few key questions to ask when hiring a PR firm to make sure it’s the right fit for you.
How do they think?
If you’re a startup, not only should you make sure your PR firm has a proven track record of getting media coverage, that’s the first step, but how do they think? I’ve met with a number of key executives where our first meeting is like a mind-meld where we’re talking through their business like we’re already working together – maybe it’s from the steps we’d take to launch funding news, to the process of a later stage pivot targeting a whole new market.
You’ll get a gut check fast once you actually meet with a PR firm to talk through each different scenario your business may be going through – if your firm really knows what they are talking about, it will quickly become apparent. They should get inside your head as much as you do about your business – thinking through each stage of news driven activity down to how to map your PR program back to your business and marketing goals. They should be open and comfortable enough to disagree with you, ask you lots of questions, challenge you and also try to really understand why you are doing what you are doing with some specific laid-out plans.
Working with a PR firm is truly a partnership in the making and it should really feel that way. Yes, it takes time to really build trust to the point where it feels like a real partnership, but with the right PR firm, even starting with the first meeting, it should feel like you’re already laying the foundation for a great working relationship.
Do they have the latest tools and technology to support your business?
Make sure that any PR firm you work with knows how to use the latest digital PR tools to magnify the impact of your PR program and activities. PR has gone way beyond pitching media and securing stories – today it’s about tying together the strategy, making sure you map out how you plan to measure each and every aspect of the program, making sure it’s fully integrated with all other events, news-driven activities, marketing activities – then integrating with paid, earned and owned media, then finally – amplifying the content marketing at the right time, and in the right place.
A great tool that we use for our startup clients is Amplyfyd, as it helps analyze and amplify the PR program, with advanced PR data analytics, insights, and amplifcation for the program. Amplyfyd, coupled with a tool like Trendkite make a powerful combination to evaluate and measure the results of your PR investment, with comprehensive metrics and customizable dashboards to quickly give you a full picture of how your PR program is making an impact on your brand.
The right PR firm will also want to use the same types of collaboration tools you use - whether it’s Slack, Wrike, Basecamp, or other communication, productivity and project management tools and platforms. Working with your PR firm should feel just like working side-by-side with your in-house team, with no delays or technology disconnects, for a seamless sense of collaboration.
Ultimately, you want to feel that the PR firm you choose to work with has the most advanced tools to support your unique business needs.
What if your business moves into a different market? How will the PR firm uncover new media contacts?
Maybe you are interviewing a PR firm that has specific media relationships within the market you are targeting, but imagine you strike a deal in the next six months with a partner that will open you up to a whole new audience? Every firm should have a deep database of media contacts so that if they need to do additional research to uncover new contacts in a variety of other markets, they have the tools that can help them with this research. Yes, relationships matter with media, but often times it’s really about finding that right contact that covers a specific area of your business.
Muck Rack is an indispensable tool for discovering and contacting journalists with unique alerts, search tools and list building technology that helps your PR team drill down to the most important media contacts covering your industry, with alerts that include social updates that you can receive so you are not missing immediate story opportunities. A good PR firm will also know how to use Muck Rack to uncover new contacts or plug in keywords for where you might be able to track stories on trend-oriented topics. (Editor's Note: *Blushing* Thanks Juliet!)
Does your business excite them? Are YOU excited to work WITH them?
One of the most important and underrated aspects of hiring a PR firm is sometimes hard to pinpoint: interpersonal chemistry. Simply put, many companies decide to hire a PR firm just based on which firm feels right to work with – they get along well, they collaborate well, and they see the PR firm as an extension of the company.
Hiring a PR firm should ideally feel exciting and empowering – like making a great new hire and bringing talented people on board to help your company grow. The right PR firm should be knowledgeable industry peers who know the ins and outs of your product category and who can be a credible voice when introducing your company to influencers.
PR is not just about numbers and to-do lists; it is a creative endeavor powered by passion and trust. You want your PR firm to really make a mind-meld with your leadership team – you need them to understand the fundamentals of what makes your company special so they can come up with great story ideas and help evangelize for your company in the media and the marketplace. You need to trust your PR firm to truly get your company and convey that same deep understanding and enthusiasm to journalists and other influential people.
Ultimately, hiring a PR firm is a lot like shopping for a great pair of jeans – it’s all about finding the right fit!
Anyone who has ever tried on clothes at a department store knows how time-consuming it can be to find just the right pair of jeans – but once you do, that pair of jeans will feel great and make you feel like a million bucks walking out of the store. Finding the right pair of jeans boosts your self-image and changes the way you present yourself to the world. In the same way, hiring a PR firm should fill you with confidence and enthusiasm. You should feel like you’ve made a great decision and that your PR team will be an important part of your company’s public image going forward.
Juliet Travis is the founder and Principal of Travis Communications, a Bay Area-based digital communications PR agency that delivers results that map to business goals. Born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, Juliet has a great sense of adventure and loves a challenge.
Photo: Jeans via Shutterstock