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5 Questions Before Hiring a PR Agency

You’ve decided it’s time for PR support. Perhaps your company raised a round of funding and your investors advise hiring an agency. Maybe you’re trying to break into top tier publications and need help landing a story. Or, your new CMO needs a PR team that can handle everything from message development to media training.

Regardless of the reason, thinking through a few key questions can ensure you’re set up for success when you start interviewing potential agency partners.

1. Do I have an established brand identity that can be effectively translated into messaging that resonates with the media?

Often, companies seek out PR as a means to an outcome like media coverage, exposure, investor attention, general awareness, etc.

While PR can help drive all this, and more, start by asking yourself whether you have a defined brand identity that a PR team can convert into easily digestible messaging for the media. Media messaging — not quite the same thing as brand or marketing messaging — is specifically designed for reporters. It’s free of jargon and sales language, instead clearly articulating who you are/what you do, how you do it differently than competitors, and why what you do is important today. We often call the last question, “make me care” — it helps to remember that reporters receive a high volume of outreach every day, so your company will need to demonstrate why you stand out in the context of what’s happening in your space — or in the world.

Your answer to these three questions helps your prospective agency partner (and, ultimately, journalists) understand your place in the market and the timeliness and importance of your story — and it serves as the baseline for developing effective communications strategies, feeding into everything from big campaigns to pitches, speaking opportunities, blogs, press releases, social copy, prep documents for interviews, and more. It also ensures all your spokespeople are talking about the company in the same way, using the same language.

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, plan to craft messaging in partnership with your agency.

2. Who do I want to reach?

This question is crucial, but far too often not clearly defined or prioritized for many companies seeking PR.

A single PR “silver bullet” that will reach every audience (customers, investors, partners, etc.) doesn’t exist, so identifying top audiences and sharing those proactively will help your PR partner determine the type of program that’s right for you.

For example, if potential customers are the main audience for a B2B startup, the program may focus on securing earned media placements that speak to the product value in publications your customers read (like TechCrunch, VentureBeat, etc.) or launches on product discovery platforms like Product Hunt. If the goal is reaching investors and you have a compelling origin story or a fairly big funding round, building relationships with publications like Business Insider or Forbes could lead to potential coverage about the company’s founding and subsequent success. Multiple target audiences will need to be addressed by an integrated approach that considers how to effectively speak to each segment.

Similarly, identifying the priority audiences for your social channels will help your agency partner determine how to best integrate efforts across social and PR programs.

Establishing these priorities at the beginning of your search for PR support will greatly improve the impact of your strategy.

3. What do I have to share that’s newsworthy?

At the core of any communications program is storytelling.

While an interesting founding story or company mission can be compelling to the media, as noted above, a timely hook is necessary if you’re looking to make a splash (this is where “why is this important now” can come back into play).

You can certainly hire a PR firm to help develop your company’s messaging and build out a proactive communications strategy, but if immediate media coverage is what you’re looking for, come to the table with something newsworthy, such as that new funding round mentioned earlier, launching a new product, a new or changing trend you’re addressing, or a high-visibility executive hire — something your PR partner can use as a hook during media outreach.

4. Do I have clear goals in mind?

Along the same lines, it’s important for PR teams to know your ideal outcome before they develop a strategy.

Data and measurement can help you understand your goals and connect with internal stakeholders to decide on your key metrics to track success. These will guide what to measure to best evaluate your communications program.

Is it an increased share of voice? Coverage around a specific news moment? To secure funding from investors? Support with talent brand efforts? Growing your audience on social channels?

Share these goals with your prospective agency partner so they can tailor their approach to your ideal outcome.

5. Is PR the right investment right now?

It’s no secret that hiring an agency is a significant investment.

Investing in PR before the company’s story is developed or when you have little to no news to share publicly may not be in the best interest of either party.

On the other hand, if you have a compelling story, timely news to share, and a clear vision of who you want to reach, know that it’s difficult to create the big splash you want (and your news deserves) without the budget necessary to invest in effective PR tactics and social media support.

Once you have the answers to these five questions, you’ll be able to provide prospective partners with everything they need to create the most impactful strategy for your business.

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