The 7 questions that tell you if a PR agency is a winner

When seeking the services of a PR agency, the wide variety of quoting structures and strategies can be overwhelming. From hours-based rates to outcome-centred models, the variety in approaches is huge. So how can you pick the correct agency and quote for your business, to ensure you’re getting the most out of your money?

1. What are they offering?

First of all, examine what the PR agency is offering. Consider, for example, if a potential PR agency quotes you for outputs alone. They might contact 500 journalists and write 50 press releases, but if they don’t achieve any coverage or don’t understand your business, they’re simply wasting your money and annoying journalists.

Obviously, there are a lot of things you can’t guarantee in PR. But if the agency is good at what they do, they should be able to put at least some form of guaranteed outcome into their quote.

2. How are they calculating their quote?

With some bigger agencies, quotes are calculated based on time spent and how much work will be involved in the rough scope of work. This includes what the campaign would look like, how many hours would be allocated to different staff members, all with different hourly rates (not that this is usually shared with you). That’s one way.

​Another way is the standard set fee, which doesn’t vary much business to business. This is usually where the agency has got a model that works for them, and they’ll throw out that price to pretty much any client that approaches them. They might have different package options to choose from, but it’s still based on a set way of doing things, rather than tailored to the client.

This works fine if all of the agency’s potential clients are very similar, with the same sort of media approach and the same sort of media angles. If all of those things are the same, then a standard set fee is fine.

But if you’re a client who has a unique set of challenges or work in a niche industry, you’ll require a more tailored approach. You should be looking for an agency that’s willing to put together a tailored quote, because in order to do effective PR work, they’ll need to spend more time on educating journalists about your organisation, researching the market, and understanding your unique set of needs.

That’s important to understand, because a good quote is a realistic one. You may need to pay more if it’s harder to achieve media coverage for your particular business – and a good PR agency will explain this to their potential client. They’ll be realistic about their expectations, including how long it’s going to take to see media coverage, and how much media coverage you can expect by a certain time or date.


3. Do they consider timing?

Another question you need to ask is around timing. It may not make any sense for you to have a whole lot of media coverage in the Christmas month or the school holidays for example, or you may be a seasonal business. So yes, it might be important for consistency to have a steady drip through the year, but you want some months to be much more concentrated. This all needs to be considered when you’re looking at a quote.

A good PR agent will be asking you those sorts of questions, but if they don’t, give them a prompt to see if they understand why timing is important. If they don’t, that should raise some flags, because you want someone that’s going to have your PR growing with your business as you grow.


4. Who will I be working with?

Another factor you should absolutely be considering is who is on the team. Particularly in large agencies, it is very, very common for there to be more senior people involved in the early stages when they’re trying to get your business. In some cases, they’ll even have a dedicated person that they wheel out for the meeting. They’re smooth, they’re suave, they talk the talk, they’re charming, they’re impressive… then, once you’ve signed up, you’ll never see them again.

What you will have is interns working on your account, which often doesn’t make business sense. Even if you don’t have interns, you’ll certainly have juniors doing a lot of the grunt work, including speaking to media, which may not be the best way to represent your business and form relationships.

With this in mind, it’s essential that you check who your team would be if you signed on and get a sense for what they’re like. Make sure you like them and that you’re going to feel comfortable working with them. They must understand your business, understand the way you like to work and be realistic about the way you work with them.

For example, do they see meetings as a KPI? Some agencies build a lot of meetings into their pricing or into the activity structure. That might be important to you, but a lot of my clients would rather I spend the time actually getting results, rather than talking about them.


5. What’s the strategy?

Another thing to consider is the strategy the agency is offering. They might seem to have good ideas, but would they actually work? This can be a tricky one to work out, especially if you have no previous experience with PR, but try to put on your thinking cap.

Think like a journalist, and ask: are these ideas actually exciting on their own? Are they interesting? Have I seen something similar to this in a magazine? Is this something journalists actually write about?

And would the outcome of this strategy further my business and help reach my objectives, or would it just be buzz for the sake of buzz?

6. Can they communicate well?

Finally, make sure your chosen agency is full of good communicators. That’s not only important for how they speak to the media, but how they communicate with you too. Can they explain things to you in a way that you understand? Are they approachable and professional? Do they seem honest? Are they realistic and manage your expectations?

7. Do they tell me ‘no’?

A good PR agent will tell you no, sometimes. They will say ‘no, we are not going to send that to media, because it’s important that we maintain a good relationship with them.’ Those no’s actually say a lot more than the yes’s.

Hopefully, if you’ve both asked the right questions at the beginning, you should feel very comfortable taking the leap and signing up with them. ​If you’re happy with the answers, then congratulations, because you are onto a winner.

About the author:

Phoebe Netto is the founder of Pure Public Relations, a PR firm that focuses on outcomes, not output – it’s pure and simple. For over ten years, Pure Public Relations has been bringing big business experience to SMEs and not-for-profits.

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