Claudia Kellermann, @PortfolioComms , a PRCA CMS accredited agency

While the process of finding and working with a PR agency can vary from company to company, there are a few standard steps to help you on your way.

Step 1 — Assemble your team

This could include the MD, sales, technical, marketing and other key departments to discuss communication needs and define objectives. By including senior representatives from across the organisation in the project team, it encourages ‘buy-in’ and ensures that everyone is on the same page at the beginning of the process. When setting objectives, apply the SMART principles to ensure that each objective is specific, measureable, attainable and relevant and that the timeframe in which they must be achieved is manageable.

Step 2 — Consider your ideal PR agency

Along with your project team, consider your organisation’s vision, values, personal characteristics and working ethos and compile a list that prospective PR agencies should also reflect.

Step 3 — Develop a detailed brief with defined objectives

This is a key element as it sets the parameters for how the agency will plan its recommended PR approach. The brief should include two parts: the first is about your organisation and its PR objectives and the second is about the PR agency and its relevant experience:

Details about your organisation should include:

• your company biog

• background to current market activity

• overview of product/service offering

• PR objectives and campaign reach

• timeline

• budget — whether it’s for a special project, campaign or anticipated budget for a year

• list of main competitors and partners

Details about the PR agency should comprise:

• its experience in your field or industry

• relevant case studies exemplifying previous work

• proposed team structure and biographies

• ways of working and approval processes

• why they’re the right agency for you

• overview of their product/service offering

• PR objectives — what you'd like to see happen

• Services — traditional & online PR and social media

• testimonials

Step 4 — Get some assurance — work with the PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association)

Consider getting in touch with the PRCA. As the UK’s professional PR body, the PRCA promotes public relations, shares communications best practice, helping consultancies maximise client value. Even better, its matchmaking service will help you find the best PR agency to meet your communications needs from their network of accredited members which are formally reviewed every two years for the Consultancy Management Standard (CMS). The CMS will have done your background research for you as it ensures they are well-run businesses that adopt best practices in all areas of their organisation.

So take full advantage of their industry expertise and inside out knowledge of its member agencies. Discuss your PR brief with them and they’ll get in touch with some of the agencies they feel could best suit your needs. Each of these agencies can then be invited to pitch, once again making use of the detailed PR brief.

Step 5 — Gauge chemistry in a face-to-face

Review the credentials each agency has submitted and aim to pull together a shortlist of 3 agencies. Try not to go for any more as it will only confuse matters and you may lose the buy in you will need later from busy non-marketing members of your selection panel. Invite the agencies for a face-to-face meeting before the official pitch. This presents the ideal opportunity to gauge the culture and fit of each PR agency with that of your own organisation. Be sure to ask that the team which would work on the account — assuming they win the business — attend this meeting as it presents the ideal opportunity to get to know the individuals in a more informal setting. This pre-pitch meeting is vital to allow the agencies to ask their questions to develop a campaign that has been thoughtfully tailored to meet your brief.

Step 6 — The pitch

Try and evaluate each pitch in accordance to your PR objectives. If you don’t understand something in the pitch, ask for clarification. Think about the creativity of each idea, have they demonstrated a real understanding of your business, in addition to understanding the basic product/service, and what you’re trying to achieve? Clarify what’s included in their budget and what’s not. Some agencies work on a taxi meter approach, while others may have set deliverables to achieve, no matter how much time it takes to achieve them. Consider another thing —
could you comfortably work with them?

Lastly, for those with an incumbent PR agency, be honest, as pitches are a lot of work not only for agencies going for them, but for those hiring them too. So, only invite the incumbent agency to re-pitch if you truly believe they’re still in with a competitive chance and you’re still open to working with them again.

Step 7 — Cross the Ts

Would you hire an employee without checking their references? Well, the same applies for your PR agency. References are usually the best way to choose between your final two... just make sure you follow up at least two at random (and be suspicious of an agency unwilling to give you a ready supply of names and numbers).

Step 8 — Select and agency and get going

Once you’ve decided on the best PR agency to address your communication needs, set up a kick-off meeting to finalise:
• specific key messages

• agree target press lists

• agree the approach

• SMART PR objectives

• suitable tools and activities to meet objectives

• spokespeople

• media training

• ways of working and approval processes

Step 9 — Work in true partnership with your agency

No matter how brilliant your PR agency is, it cannot work in isolation. You need to treat them as an extension of your internal marketing team, which means:

•spending the necessary time developing angles on industry issues

•being prepared for opportunities with tight deadlines

•approving all submitted work in a timely manner — at that stage, the job is 90% done — only you can give it the final go-ahead!

Step 10 — Keep it fresh

Make sure that you agree how you are going to review progress and what your markers of success will be. Quarterly review meetings will give you an opportunity to reflect on how things are going and your agency that chance to continue meeting your needs as they evolve.

Key markers can include:

• number of press cuttings in Tier 1 and Tier 2 press
• key message pick up
• meeting of agreed number of deliverables

Best of luck in finding your new PR partner!