Making the most of your PR Agency

Whether you have a full marketing role within a large pharmaceutical company or you work for a veterinary practice where marketing is part or all of your role, or anything in-between, employing a PR agency has one aim: To provide your business or department with a return on investment (ROI).

That’s the easy bit. Actually demonstrating a tangible ROI on your PR spend is much harder! Usually the effects of PR are cumulative and often intangible as they form part of the marketing mix. There are of course exceptions such as the promotion of a specific event for which you want bums on seats, but even then, there will be hidden benefits, for example the impression created on your target audience and the building of your reputation as a leader in your field.

Benchmarking research is often the best way to gage effectiveness of your PR, but remember that data will always contain influences from other sales marketing activity and the efficacy of the product or service offering.

Why PR?

The first question is whether PR is right for your company or product at this stage in its lifecycle. PR provides an opportunity to communicate more complex and educational messages in a credible context, usually as editorial which is seen as independent and impartial.

If this is something that will aid your marketing campaign then the next step is to decide if you have the resources and expertise in-house, or if you should buy in these via a PR agency.

Outsourcing and Resourcing

If you are outsourcing your PR, you will usually have decided (or have been allocated) a budget. However it is also important to consider at this stage your internal resourcing to execute the PR work. It’s not uncommon for a PR agency to experience a situation where a client has allocated sufficient budget, signed off a campaign plan, but then is unable to provide the input and support to help execute that plan.

An agency cannot operate in isolation, a key point of contact to provide approvals and important information and documentation is essential, and in an ideal scenario an agency will form part of your marketing team.

Project or fee based?

When using a new PR agency or an agency for the first time, it can be useful to start with a project. However do remember that results from PR generally take longer to be seen than say, advertising. I liken it to a steam ship; it takes time and effort to get up to full speed, but will carry on for some time after input has ceased! However projects enable everyone to learn how each works and whether PR is right for the business/product/service (and whether the PR agency is right too).

Without doubt a good agency works best on an ongoing fee, not just because of the steam ship analogy, but also because PR is really about teamwork. The more integral your PR agency is to your team, the better they will understand you, your business, products/services, your needs and objectives, and thus will be enabled to become very proactive in developing results-driven campaigns.

Who’s wagging the tail?

On the flipside, if your requirements are ‘someone to write a [pre-defined] press release’, or follow your specific instructions, then you may wish to question whether it’s an agency you need, or just extra internal resource? Good PR agencies are not just ‘doers’ they are consultants too – they will have worked with many companies, gaining experience working on numerous campaigns, and they will know what usually works, and what doesn’t.

The best agencies will in fact question your campaign objectives, any hypotheses you may have, ask for copies of research or request new research, and may even question your logic! That is their job – and it may well be uncomfortable at times, but a good agency does, very often, know best, it’s what you pay them for!

Making it work – it’s a people thing!

So you’ve made the decision to take on a PR agency. The next step is making sure that they are the right fit for you and your business. With regards to business, consider whether you want a generic agency or one that works vertically (in your sector)? Do you need B2B, B2C, or both? And do they have good relationships with the media (if that is important to the success of the campaign)? And also consider social media – do you have an internal resource to distribute the PR-generated work, or will this be a requirement of your agency?

However, when it comes to you and your team, personalities are really important too. You have to gel with the PR person or team and be able to work effectively together – and enjoy working with them too!

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