There are plenty of questions or skills companies consider important when they’re looking for a PR agency. Sometimes, they’re wrong, or at least not completely right (see Part One); and sometimes, they’re right, or mostly right (see Part Two).
But in this, the last post on this subject, I’m going to suggest some areas companies ought to consider, but rarely do. They’re based not just on inside experience of working in a PR agency, but on experience of regularly working on shared projects with other PR companies, so if you’re an ex-colleague and you think I’m pointing the finger at your agency, or at you personally, I’m not.
OK, here’s the first one. If I were selecting a PR agency (let’s call it Agency XYZ), I wouldn’t ask for evidence of media contacts. I’d call some of the journalists myself – the ones important to my organisation – and ask them what they know of Agency XYZ. Some of them won’t talk to me, some of them will profess ignorance, and some of them will be unnecessarily snide about the agency, and possibly about PR companies in general. Why? Because some journalists are like that. They think they’re somehow above the service that PR provides to them, when all too often they’re not.
But nonetheless, in spite of all these caveats, I may speak to a journalist who tells me something useful, good or bad, about the agency. It was extra effort for me, but hey, it was worth it.
Here’s the next one. I wouldn’t just ask for references. I’d ask for a client list too. So far, so good – many companies ask agencies for their client lists. But I’d go further. I’d not only take up the references – I’d call other businesses on the client list, find the PR client contacts, and ask them what they think of Agency XYZ too. Why? Because I know the references I’ve been given on a plate are likely to be favourable.Wouldn’t it also be good to hear from someone else, and at random? I think so. I expect the people I speak to would recognise the value in seeking a second opinion in this way.
For the last one, I don’t need to speak to anyone at all. It’s about the agency’s ability to communicate, and I can check that for myself. I will take a good, long look at its website. What does it say about the company and its character? Is it distinctive, or does it just say it’s distinctive? Is it written well? Is there a blog or blogs – and if there are, do they say interesting things? I may agree with their posts, I may not. What matters is that there’s evidence of thought, and of the ability to communicate ideas. These are PR people, after all.
If there are client press releases on the website, I’ll take a look at those, too. Are they written well? If I were the client, would I be happy? And – I have to say this – whether it’s the press releases or anything else on the website, I’d want to know about typos, bad grammar and generally sloppy writing, because it tells me not just about the agency’s attention to detail, which is important, but about its ability to communicate – which is its raison d’etre.
So there you go. Over three posts, I’ve covered things that seem important, but sometimes aren’t; things that are as important as they seem; and things that may not occur to some people to check out.
Hope it was useful. Feel free to chip in.