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How to Choose a PR Firm [With Checklist]

October 6, 2023

by Sydney Wess

Public relations is growing to be more and more of an indispensable part of company marketing strategies all over the world. Even so, strong PR efforts are taxing and need more in-house attention than a lot of businesses have available. To cope with this issue, it’s common for organizations to work with PR companies for improvements to brand image, reputation, and even rankings.

PR should be thought of as a central component of your business, not just your digital marketing strategy. This is because of its ability to bolster entire brands and dictate how the public perceives companies.

However, it’s much easier said than done, so most companies opt to find an agency. But just how do you find the right PR agency to achieve your PR goals?

This guide is intended to help you identify strong PR companies, but more importantly, it will walk you step-by-step through the process of finding and deciding upon the perfect PR firm to hire.

Skip right to the good part. Find the right PR company for you on Clutch. Use the location, cost, and ratings filters to customize your search so you can connect with the right companies in minutes.

What Makes a Good PR Company?

Because of the importance of the PR role at companies across industries, defining a ‘good agency’ requires considering a decent cross-section of positive attributes.

Of course, the desired qualities of agency partners will vary from client to client. Although, the following characteristics and competencies largely confirm that you’re speaking with a ‘legit’ PR firm.

  • Ability to Build Compelling Narratives: Much of PR is storytelling in a way that resonates with your target audience. Good PR agencies understand the alignment between storytelling, thought leadership, and digital marketing, which equips them to deliver communications plans. The best PR agencies have track records of delivering results while appearing both compelling and organic in their storytelling.
  • Media Relations: Media opportunities, like placements on reputable blogs and podcasts, are a huge part of what public relations firms contribute to clients. Building and maintaining relationships with journalists, editors, and media outlets is essential for securing media coverage. Strong PR professionals should have a robust network of media contacts and brand messaging skills to craft press releases and other strategic communications materials.
  • Crisis Management Skills: PR isn't just about positive publicity; it's also about handling crises effectively. Look for potential agencies with experience in crisis communication and can navigate difficult situations with finesse.
  • Digital-First PR Focus: In many cases, a brand’s online presence is more indicative of its reputation than its offline performance. Ensure the PR team is well-versed in digital PR strategies, including social media management, SEO, outreach, and online reputation management.
  • Client Success Stories: Request case studies or examples of successful PR campaigns the agency has executed for clients in your industry. Team members will have a clearer picture of capabilities through the eyes of past clients. Leveraging these stories requires smart content creation tactics that the agency should be able to execute.

How to Choose a PR Firm

Whether you’re a large corporation, small business, or a startup, PR shouldn’t fall to the back burner. Set-it-and-forget-it strategies are ineffective in shielding brands from crisis and scandal. Still, sometimes, companies don’t have the in-person resources to devote solely to public relations activities.

This is where finding the perfect PR company becomes not an option but a necessity. Follow these simple steps to ensure you make the right decisions throughout hiring and interviewing.

  1. Determine PR Goals
  2. Set a smart budget
  3. Research potential PR agencies
  4. Shortlist your top choices
  5. Interview and distribute RFPs
  6. Narrow down your options to discover your top choice
  7. Contract your new PR partner

1. Determine PR Goals

Laying out your goals clearly is the beginning step of every hiring process. If you don’t understand what you want from an external partner, the odds are slim that you can communicate your needs effectively with them. This makes for a confusing project.

Consider the nuances in what PR firms could provide and ask yourself whether or not you need these services. For instance, do you want to increase brand awareness, manage a crisis, define yourself as a thought leader, or do something else altogether?

With goals in hand, agencies can show up to conversations with relevant and helpful approaches to your problems. If you want tailored strategies specific to your company, think through these goal-setting methods:

  • Identify Target Audience: Through your current research and audience segmentation, determine who the primary audience is to help your agencies consider what will resonate most with them
  • Establish SMART Goals: Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) PR goals. These may include but are not limited to increasing brand visibility, enhancing reputation, or driving website traffic.

2. Set a Smart Budget

PR services can drastically vary in cost depending on the scope and scale of your requirements. Knowing this, creating a budget at the beginning of the project can help you stick to what you can afford as you begin talking to providers and receiving quotes.

When you enter into your first conversations with potential agencies, you must be ready to bring your budget into the conversation. Being honest about what you can spend from the start will help companies work with you to prioritize your core needs without overspending on things you don’t need.

Learn how to set a PR budget by considering the cost of hiring a PR agency using Clutch’s PR Pricing Guide.

3. Research Potential PR Agencies

Now that you have a solid understanding of your goals and what you’re willing to spend on PR, you can start bringing agencies into the conversation.

Using tools like Clutch, you can filter and customize your searches for firms that specialize in your industry or align with your expectations for pricing. Parse through third-party reviews from past clients to get a feel for what it would be like to work with different firms.

Outside of Clutch, explore business websites for case studies, portfolio items, and other valuable insights into a firm's reputation.

4. Shortlist Your Top Choices

Before reaching out to all the companies you’ve considered, aim to narrow your option down to a 3–5 company shortlist.

You don’t want to spend more time than necessary interviewing companies that aren’t right for you. It’s important to make sure you set manageable expectations for yourself and the hiring team by not overcommitting to interviewing too many candidates.

In choosing your select few, remember which firms had strong reputations, experience in your industry, and a demonstrated ability to achieve similar results.

You can rely on the research you collected to make these tough calls.

  • Seek Recommendations: Reach out to industry peers, colleagues, and business networks
  • Online Research: Explore online reviews, testimonials, and case studies
  • Evaluate Services: Assess the range of PR services offered by each agency and consider whether they align with the goals you defined early in the process
  • Client References: Speak to current or former clients to get firsthand feedback

5. Interview and Distribute Request for Proposals (RFP)

Now that you have a list of possible providers, contact them for interviews or consultations.

8 Questions to Ask PR Agencies Before Signing a Contract

Once you've shortlisted a few promising PR agencies, it's time to conduct in-depth interviews.

  1. What is your approach to developing a PR strategy for clients
  2. How do you handle crisis communication and reputation management?
  3. Can you provide examples of PR campaigns you’ve managed in our industry? What does your experience look like in our industry?
  4. How do you measure the success of your PR efforts, and what metrics do you track?
  5. What is your approach to media relations, including influencer engagement?
  6. How do you tailor PR strategies to align with our brand's values and objectives?
  7. What is your team's structure and who will be our main point of contact?
  8. How do you stay updated on industry trends and changes in the media landscape?

6. Narrow Down PR Agency Contenders to Your Top Choice

After reviewing the proposals and conducting interviews, it's time to decide. At this point, you’ve gotten to know the teams a bit better and can make judgment calls based on softer qualities like team compatibility and brand values.

Particularly importantly, you should have a good feel for how well different firms understand your industry. For those needing industry experience, this should be a quick way to narrow down your shortlist.

In addition to industry, here are some game-changer areas that you may want to think through to make your last round of cuts:

  • Metrics and Reporting: Do they track the right KPIs? How often do they report? Does this align with what you want?
  • PR Strategy: Does the approach they’ve laid out on their site and in interviews resonate with you? Is it clear they understand what you need from them? Is their experience a good match for the work you need from them?

Returning to these two essential focus areas will encourage you to think back to your goals and budget from the beginning of this effort. Once you see which company makes the most sense given your goals, you should be positioned to select your agency.

7. Contract Your Public Relations Agency

Once you've selected the right PR agency, it's time to move forward with a contract. A well-structured contract should include:

  • Objectives: Clearly state your PR objectives, desired outcomes, and key performance indicators.
  • Timeline: Define the proposed timeline for PR campaigns and deliverables.
  • Pricing Model: Outline the pricing structure, including any retainer fees or additional charges.
  • Reporting: Specify the frequency and format of progress reports and performance metrics.
  • Responsibilities: Clearly define your organization's and PR agency's roles and responsibilities.

At this point, none of this should be a surprise because you’ve discussed all of this during the interviews. However, if something seems off or unaligned, bring it up before you sign. Open communication will save you time in the long run.

How to Choose a PR Firm Checklist

Need some extra support in tracking your success in finding a PR company? Download our checklist to make sure you’re choosing the right PR firm every step of the way.

how to choose a pr firm checklist

Download this checklist before hiring a PR Agency.

Public Relations is Core to a Well-Functioning Digital Marketing Operation

Choosing the right PR company is instrumental in building a strong online and offline presence for your business. By following these steps, you can make an informed choice that aligns with your business objectives and helps you achieve PR success.

Connect with the best PR firms on Clutch.

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