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Filomena Fanelli: The five key ingredients to hiring a PR agency

Filomena FanelliHave you ever talked to a friend who enjoyed a meal at a restaurant, but then you went to check it out for yourself and your experience was less savory than theirs? Perhaps it wasn’t your idea of fine cuisine or the service was lackluster. It’s true, one person’s taste can be quite different than another, but when it comes to hiring a PR firm for your business’ needs there are some key ingredients that can better the chances of a good review.

Working with a PR agency can be, much like dining at a restaurant, a memorable experience you rave about or one that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. So, how can a business – whether a restaurant group in need of visibility for a grand opening, a developer building a hotel, a nonprofit overcoming a reputation challenge or a skilled nursing facility that needs to communicate regularly – ensure they’ve landed on the right group of public relations professionals to solve their problems? While life is full of uncertainties, there is a menu that every company ought to read over before ordering.

Arrive hungry
Timing is everything when it comes to engaging with a PR or marketing partner. Not only should there be a clear goal or problem to be solved – and the best agencies will seek to draw out thorough answers to those questions before talking about anything tactical – but all parties should be eager and ready to sit around the table.

The business should be able to clearly articulate: what makes it different from others in its category; the audience to be reached through the campaign or announcement; the budget it can invest to see the effort through; the party or parties that will be readily available to be the day-to-day internal contact; the best media spokesperson(s) for the initiative; and precisely how success will be measured. On the latter, any PR firm worth their salt will offer to share metrics and reports and want to put a process in place to ensure their work ties to the goals of the program.

Check out the reviews
Much like you would check Yelp or head to Facebook or Instagram to see pictures of plated dishes, it helps to know what you are getting into before committing. Some of the best matches involve scoping out what other customers have experienced. A good sign is the ability to review case studies, read reviews or testimonials or hearing good feedback via word of mouth in the community. Ideally a company should see itself in these examples, identifying similar values or goals or noting examples from a situation or industry that mirrors theirs. A PR agency that excels in working with banks, for example, will likely hit the ground running for a financial advisory firm.

Not sure where to start? Ask around, particularly if there’s a company whose visibility or public persona you admire, see if the company has won industry or community awards or go to good old Google and type “best PR firms in (your county, your region, your industry)” and read away, with an eye on results and client lists.

Do a taste test
The options are many when it comes to getting outside support on the public relations and marketing front, from solo practitioners to boutique, niche agencies to full-service firms that handle everything from design and branding to placing advertisements and pay-per-click digital campaigns. Fit may depend on budget, the level of needs, work style, geographic footprint or areas of expertise.

A deep curiosity and understanding of your business goals is a start, but perhaps more important is a work style that meshes with yours or your team’s. A great PR relationship involves open communication and mutual respect. The partnership needs to be palatable on both sides.

Scan the menu (but don’t just order)
Look at the service offerings of a firm to ensure they match up with your needs. A design firm that does PR as an occasional add-on is far different than a specialist; similarly, a solely social media campaign may be best left to a company that focuses on that rather than dabbles in it.

And, a word of caution on a la carte offerings: While it may seem nice to a company to order “just the one thing we need,” the best efforts involve a consultative approach and are rooted in relationships rather than transactions. True PR professionals will let you know if you truly need that one thing. They will likely not be order takers, but counselors who want to ensure that they listen, enhance the solution, proactively build upon it for improved results and, if need be, possibly turn away your immediate business if they believe it’s not feasible or advisable.

For example, a transactional engagement is akin to going to McDonald’s and ordering a burger. The person probably won’t ask too much, beyond if you’d like fries with that and you’ll get exactly what you paid for, quickly and at a low cost. However, a more sophisticated restaurant might let you know what beer pairs well with that burger, run through some interesting cheese options or let you know about the special that night that will satisfy your craving in an unexpected way.

Stay out of the kitchen
While client involvement is desirable, and necessary, once the goals are clear and the strategy is discussed, the execution is best left to the team cooking up the final results. No chef appreciates the diner standing over his shoulder in the kitchen, asking questions about why he’s adding the broth now or if he’s sure he put enough pepper in the pot. It’s an unnecessary distraction from the task at hand. The best PR professionals are similarly adept at the process they’ve been put in charge of. Questions and ideas are welcome, as is feedback, as long as there’s space to see the final product through with a dash of flair and finesse.

One final, and often overlooked suggestion for a great PR firm relationship is the equivalent of tipping your waiter for excellent service. Once a company has found an agency or individual that serves up greatness, let others in on that best-kept secret by making a recommendation, posting a review or returning time and again. Most likely, they’ll be singing your praises to others, too – and savoring the results you’ve achieved together.

Filomena Fanelli is the CEO and founder of Impact PR & Communications Ltd. (prwithimpact.com), an award-winning public relations agency based in New York’s Hudson Valley and serving clients throughout the tristate area. Fanelli can be reached at 845-462-4979 or at filomena@prwithimpact.com.

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