CAPABILITY: Many agencies will claim to offer PR services, but that may not be their main area of focus. The websites of design agencies and SEO providers may list PR as an additional service, but if it’s not at the very core of the agency’s business then it may play second fiddle to the rest. And if a PR agency claims to offer social media, but its Twitter feed lacks engaging, original content or, worse, is not regularly used, beware.
SERVICES: Draw up a list of the services required. Depending on your needs, media relations, corporate communications, crisis management, social media and content development might all be on the list. Many agencies provide only some of these. Look for examples of their work in these fields.
SPECIALISATION: Ask the agency about the industries and sectors that it has worked in, and any that it considers an area of specialisation. Sectors aside, what are the broader business and regulatory issues that its clients have faced, and how has it helped clients develop a stance on them? Experience gained handling these issues may be of direct relevance to your organisation.
EXPERIENCE (AGENCY): Look for names of businesses in your core market, or in vertical sectors where you are active, or intend to be active. Find out if any are current clients of the agency and how long they have been working with them. A longterm working relationship with a client suggests that the agency works hard to understand a client business and delivers consistent results.
EXAMPLES OF WORK: Agency activity for clients should be supported by case studies that clearly show how an agency met client objectives. Campaign results should be clearly demonstrable and backed up with metrics. Many can provide an indication of return on investment, although be aware that some will employ Advertising Value Equivalent analysis to establish this ROI, a subject addressed in a previous Passnotes.
EXPERIENCE (INDIVIDUAL): Find out about the team that will be working on the account if they win the business. Did they work on the case studies that the agency provided to establish its experience? How long has the team been together? What other work have they done at the agency, and outside? Is there a broad mix of experience, talent and skills? Are the roles clearly defined? WRITING The stock in trade for PR agencies is the written word, and this remains as true for social media as it does for traditional print media relations. A prospective agency should be able to provide copies of case studies, blog posts, articles and news releases to show that its writing is engaging, persuasive and of a high standard.
MEASUREMENT: Find out how a prospective agency will capture, measure and report campaign achievements. It should be willing and able to incorporate metrics that align PR activity with a client’s broader business objectives. Insist on metrics that capture the agency resources that are being put into account activity, and a system that highlights any activities that are starting to drag behind.
CHARGING: Agencies employ different charging models, so it’s important to understand how these work. Broadly, these break down into two areas. Some agencies charge for their time – by the hour, half‑day or day – and dedicate a specific amount of time to a client account each month. It’s important, therefore, to determine from the outset what will be achieved with that time. And it will be important to control additional requests for agency time to handle unforeseen requirements each month unless an allowance has been made for the extra hours involved. Others charge a retainer, or management fee, typically paid monthly or quarterly. For the client, this provides certainty when it comes to budgeting and usually allows for a closer and more flexible relationship, as the agency should be able to price in a level of support to meet unforeseen client requirements. However, the agency should agree to a specific number and type of activities in return for a retainer, while any disbursements associated with the account should be subject to a cap unless separately agreed on a case-by-case basis.
THE FEEL-GOOD FACTOR: Finally, PR and marketing is very much a ‘people business’, and the wider team needs to get on well. How personable, open and helpful is the agency team? How willing is the agency to make regular meetings and visit the client to discuss story leads and new opportunities? It’s also important to ensure regular access to senior agency executives – ideally, they will be involved in day‑to-day client activity