In my previous post, I covered questions client companies ask PR companies that tend not to be too useful, at least in my opinion. In this one, I’m looking at what seem to me to be their better questions.
One of them is ‘Can you demonstrate relevant experience?’ This is not like demonstrating excellent media contacts. In this case, the agency’s client list, or the team members’ CVs, will support any claim of relevance. It shows whether agencies understand the market, the issues, the media that covers it, the kind of PR that will succeed, and more besides.
Mind you, the lack of relevant experience needn’t always be a deal-breaker. I’ve known some companies to make what I regarded as a poor choice of PR agency purely on the basis of experience – choosing an OK travel and hospitality specialist, for instance, rather than a good generalist – only to regret it later.
Another good question is ‘How do you measure success?’ Results from PR are notoriously difficult to gauge. The marketing team to whom agencies report have internal audiences to satisfy. Reporting column inches to their bosses isn’t enough – but on the other hand, proving that a multi-million pound sale was the direct result of some good PR is almost impossible. Marketing teams therefore like – or ought to like – their agency to have a credible model for measuring not just media coverage, but other ways in which the company’s target market has been reached and influenced.
A third good question, in my experience, is ‘Who’s going to work on my team?’ Some PR agencies field new business teams for the pitch, and if they win, they assign different people as account handlers. I don’t have a major problem with that myself – as long as one, those account handlers are the ones with relevant experience (see above), or if not, relevant skills and the requisite enthusiasm and ability, and as long as two, I can be certain of getting the attention of senior people on my agency team. There are some very bright juniors out there, but if I’m the client, I want to know the director or account director is taking a lead for me, and isn’t just turning up to the monthly meetings. (As a PR company director, I liked to be very hands-on myself.)
There are plenty of other areas client companies rightly consider, but the last one I’ll address here is a very basic one. It’s this, and it’s a question companies should ask not of anyone else, but of themselves: ‘do we like this crew?’ Companies need to feel comfortable with their agencies. They need to feel these people can be trusted, that they’re not putting things on too much, that there’s some sort of meeting of minds there. Over many years, I heard we’d won or lost pitches simply on the basis of chemistry.
It’s an absolutely fair deciding factor, in my view. If you choose a PR agency, you’re starting a relationship – and for any relationship to work, something has to click.
In the next and last post on this subject, I’ll cover a few things companies tend not to do when selecting a PR company. Even though they maybe should.