By Louise Findlay-Wilson, Creator of PrPro and Owner of Energy PR

At some stage you may need to hire a PR agency, to supplement your own internal team, or because you need to take your PR to the next level. So I thought I'd share 8 danger signs to look out for when choosing a PR agency:

1. Questions - PR works at its best when it is closely aligned to your business plan - not simply your marketing plan. A good agency will want to understand the bigger picture, and you should be prepared to share it. If they don't ask about your business plan DON'T use them.

2. Budget - PR is not a quick fix. If you are going the agency route you will be buying the time of good quality, experienced people. You need to be prepared to pay significantly for their services. However, if at the briefing meeting, the agency appears much more interested in your budget than your business, alarm bells should be ringing as I think you can see where their priorities are!

3. Team structure - big agencies typically pitch for work using their smartest, most senior people and then as soon as the account is won, more junior personnel are left to handle all the day-to-day work. That's how many agencies make their money but it's a monumental rip off that you shouldn't stand for. So interrogate closely who the day-to-day campaign will be delivered by. Insist on meeting them, then ignore all the other clever people in the room, just judge things on whether the day-to-day people fit with you and your needs. Ask yourself "are they worth that budget?"

4. Capabilities - you need your PR agency to be capable of deploying any of the communications tools at their disposal. You want all the skills under one roof - and I'd argue in the hands of the people who will be looking after your account. If your day-to-day team can't do social media and doesn't understand PR's impact on SEO they are not good enough for you.

5. Size matters but not how you think - don't be reassured that a big agency will be a safer bet. Big agencies are simply a series of teams, all collected together under one roof and brand. Your account will only ever have one team assigned to it - so there is NO advantage in the agency being huge. Trust me, the nonsense about lots of other people having input into your accounts won't happen unless your account is really big. Indeed unless your budget is very big, you will be somewhere down the list of priorities for even the team assigned to you. Whereas for a smaller agency you will be a much bigger deal and will probably receive much better attention and care.

6. Offices - don't be seduced by the fancy offices. As soon as you are discontented with the agency's service you will begrudge meeting at those lovely offices - feeling 'this is where my money's going' and 'how much is this biscuit costing me?' Also don't obsess with having an agency nearby. One worth its salt will travel to you and will not charge you their time out of the office doing so.

7. Market knowledge - this is a common mistake. Lots of companies think their situation, their market, their problem are unique and that they need someone who specialises in their sector. Don't be limited in this way. Of course market knowledge is helpful, but someone steeped in a sector can be staid, dull, dogged that 'this is the way things work' and thus not brimming with new ideas that will make you stand out. Also remember, good PR people are smart. They can quickly pick up the nuances of a market. I'd rather a smart agency that doesn't know my specific market (YET) to a mediocre one that does.

8. Measurement - this is crucial. When speaking to prospective agencies ask what they will be measuring in your campaign. Don't prompt them with the answers, see what they say. In essence if they are still obsessing about measuring column inches DON'T use them. You want an agency that is keen to measure other things too - the stuff that means you are achieving your goals - this could be web traffic, downloads, enquiries, sales etc.

Keep this brief checklist in mind and you will find the agency that’s right for you.

If you are looking for a PR agency or want to do your own PR, contact Louise Findlay-Wilson on 01993 823011 or one of her businesses.

For training and tools so you can DIY PR visit www.prpro.co.uk

If you are looking for a PR agency visit www.EnergyPR.co.uk

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