How does an organization know it is hiring the right PR firm? Traditionally, the only way to know if a PR firm is right for a company or organization is to undergo the “pitch” process.
This holds true for any consultancy, whether it be a PR firm, ad agency, CPA firm, law firm and so forth. All consultants sell their time, knowledge and expertise. It is a tough sell, as consultants can’t promise outcomes, not usually.
So hence the pitch. Organizations meet a number of potential PR firms, talk to them and then as for a proposal. A proposal is a written pitch. It is supposed to explain who the consultancy is, their qualifications and a few ideas. It also explains how they bill and usually how much they will bill.
But in today’s internet age, when every consultant has a website, and online reviews on Yelp and other websites are plentiful, does the proposal hold credence? Or is it just a sell job.
Well, it is definitely a sell job. If the consultant wants the client, they of course will structure the proposal to meet the needs of the client.
Unfortunately, in the PR business some I have seem proposals that, well, stretch the truth. Some firms make implied promises that they can get the client major media coverage, while everybody knows that media coverage can never be guaranteed, unless it is the Academy Awards or the Grammy Awards. Some name drop that they have worked for other organizations when they really never did.
So what’s an organization seeking a PR firm to do? How do they judge whether they are making the right decision?
Having been in the pitch position numerous times, my suggestion is threefold. First, find a firm that has represented a number of organizations in your business category. You don’t want to pay to educate a PR firm about your business and learn the buzz words.
Second, and I firmly believe this is key, make sure the chemistry is right. Chemistry is not only important when dating, it is also important in business relationships. If you don’t enjoy working with a consultant, talking to him or her, then you most likely won’t like their work or ideas. You have to not only respect who they are, but feel comfortable speaking your mind and brainstorming with them.
For many, including myself, this includes an informal type of relationship. When I get retained, I like to think of myself as part of my client’s team, not as an outside consultant. I might not be privy to every internal issue, but I want them to think of me as if I am on staff.
And last, make sure you are comfortable with how they bill. I have seem agency-client relationships break apart because the PR firm charged the client for a cup of coffee at at meeting. PR firms charge for expenses, but some take it to extremes. It is strange that an organization will pay a PR firm thousands of dollars a month for their time and get irritated by a $3.00 charge. It might seem petty, but it happens.
So again, if you don’t feel comfortable picking up the phone and talking to your PR consultant casually to run an idea by them, then they probably are not right for you.