Getting the Most Out of Your PR Hired Help
You've looked at your checkbook, looked with dismay at your current promotion campaign, and made a major decision: You want your promotions to be first class, and you've decided to get professional help — an advertising agency, a PR firm, a freelancer, or a graphic design studio. Here are some helpful hints for getting the best work out of your outside supplier with the least amount of trouble:
- Brief your agency. The more your PR firm or advertising agency knows about your product, your company, and your markets, the better. Tell your agency what makes your product unique. Explain its advantages over the competition's products. Explain your marketing strategy. Provide background material in the form of current ads and press releases, brochures, articles on your industry, and market-research reports. The best clients prepare comprehensive agency briefings in writing.
- If you use separate agencies for advertising and PR, brief them both at the same input meeting. Doing so further helps ensure integration between your advertising and PR campaigns. It also saves you from having to present the same background briefing twice.
- Do not compete with your agency in the creative area. You certainly can disapprove of the brochure copy or the press kit that your agency turns in. Make helpful criticisms and turn it back for a revision. But don't tell outside talent how to do the job. If you can write better than the writer and take better pictures than the photographer, fire them and do the work yourself.
- Don't strain your promotions through many layers of approval. You, and possibly your business partner, should approve or disapprove the work that the outside agency submits. But don't look for approval from your purchasing agent, your accountant, your cashier, and your mother-in-law. Too many levels of approval muddy clear writing and water down the impact of the message. Worse, they dampen the creative spirit of your writers or artists so that the next thing they do will be mediocre enough to get your company's instant approval.
- Be reasonable about paying. Making a good profit in PR or advertising is difficult, and many agencies and freelancers have gone out of business waiting for late payments from their clients. Be fair to your agencies and freelancers and pay them promptly.
By all means, watch expenses carefully, and don't pay for something you never asked for in the first place. On the other hand, too much haggling over money can cause your outside professionals to put forth less effort on your account. You will get a competent promotion, but not a great one.
That said, when you hire a PR agency to work with you, it's essential that you stay in charge of the process. If the agency is making the decisions, it's akin to the tail wagging the dog. Your practitioner is there for advice (and you should hire someone who will give you the best advice), but you are the one who knows your company best. You are the one with daily and one-on-one contact with your customers. That's why you must be the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to how you implement your PR campaign.
- Create a budget. Before talking to an agency, know what you can afford to spend on PR. Your budget will depend on where you are in your business cycle. A mature business will have different needs from those of a new business. In a major corporation, the PR budget will be 5 to 10 percent of the entire marketing budget. You must determine the parameters before you speak to an agency or a PR practitioner.
- Set sensible expectations. This is the number-one key component in establishing a successful, long-term relationship and must happen from the beginning. The most realistic expectation is that the process takes time. Steer clear of any agency that promises to get you on Oprah next month. Create communication documents with time lines that spell out what will happen — not just the tactics but, for example, every little task that goes into writing a press release and getting it out to the press. Assign every item to a person so you see who's doing what and when it's due. Update these documents weekly, adding new assignments, checking off what's finished, and using red flags to indicate where you're late.
- Understand who does what from the beginning. Hiring a PR firm doesn't make your work easier. If you want PR to work, you have to keep in mind that it is a partnership and will require a commitment of your time. You need to know how PR works (reading this book is a good start, of course). Typical tasks you should expect to do include talking to the press, taking incoming calls, sending product samples to the press, and so on.
- Establish and maintain direction in the process. Set up a weekly conference call to review the weekly update so you see exactly what goes on. The decision-makers for your company need to be on the call, so schedule the conference call around them, if necessary.