Most small business owners know that working with a public relations firm can be an effective way to raise awareness for their business. Retaining a public relations firm can be more valuable and cost-effective than advertising. When a third party like a media outlet endorses your business, it can build credibility, as potential customers are more likely to trust a third-party endorsement than an advertisement. But how do you choose the right PR firm for your business? Here are six steps to help make that choice easier.
Step 1: Needs and Goals
Before you begin your search, think about your PR goals. What is it that you want? Whom do you want to reach? Do you know your target demographic? Do you want to be on TV? Do you want reviews in newspapers? Or, do you want to build exposure online? How long do you want to work with a PR agency? Do you want to work with a PR agency to launch awareness for your product, service or brand, or for consistency longer term? Once you identify your goals, you’ll be able to find an agency to help you achieve them.
Step 2: Referrals
Your search should always start by asking other small business owners for referrals of people they have worked with so you can have some names to begin the process. You can compare and contrast the agencies you have, and find the right fit for you. You can also work the process backward and find a successful business that’s similar in type to your business, and find out what PR firm that business owner used.
Step 3: Web Research
Look up the agency online. Check out their Website and social networks as well as their current and past projects and testimonials. Find out how long they have been in business and what types of businesses they work to promote. In our connected age, it’s easy to do your homework ahead of time to be able to narrow down your list based on your research. It’s 2012, so make sure the agency you select is connected in the social media world — Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. If they are connected digitally, they will be able to help promote and advice you in the social media space and capitalize on your Google search rankings — a necessity for small business owners.
Step 4: First Contact
Begin contacting several firms to pick the one that is right for you. Collect information on prices, timeline and availability. Find out more about their area of specialty and expertise. Make sure your business is the type of business the PR agency tends to work with and promote. Now you can narrow your list further.
Step 5: Interview
Once you’ve narrowed down your list based on your budget, goals and timing, you should set up an interview with each PR firm by phone or in-person. A good firm will want to talk with you as well to make sure the fit is perfect. They should also encourage you to talk with other PR firms. Before you schedule the interview, give the firm the opportunity to learn about your business so you can hear their ideas and decide if you like what you are hearing. Ask questions just as if you are interviewing someone for a job. Find out the publications and media outlets where they have built relationships and successfully promoted businesses. Remember a good PR agency should have an established network of media contacts. Make sure the agency you are talking to understands your brand. You can even request a preliminary proposal of how they would go about publicizing your business. Good PR agencies have strong track records.
Step 6: The Final Decision
The most important part of your decision process should really be your instincts. It’s all about knowing and liking the PR agency you are going to work with, because if you don’t like the person initially, you will most likely be dissatisfied in the long run. Did you establish rapport upon initial contact? During the interview phase, which firm stood out? What agency do you like, respect and trust the most? In the end, go with your gut, and you will make the best decision for you and your book.
Along with results, a good PR agency should give you valuable information for building your business and brand and to amplify the exposure you are getting. In the end, it is all about the collaboration so pick your team carefully.