Shopping for a PR Agency

Some feel that public and media relations are an unnecessary expense. That's debatable.

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Shopping for a PR Agency

Many new businesses decide to handle their own publicity, reasoning that outsourcing their public and media relations is an unnecessary expense. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, and attempting in-house PR is every bit as dicey as handing your advertising needs over to an internal marketing department.

Media coverage of your company is one of the most effective ways to generate excitement over your products, particularly if the news stories are followed up with intense marketing. Because news stories appear to be objective, they have a far greater influence over buyers’ decisions than do mere advertising campaigns. They are also significantly most cost-effective, since genuine buzz is self-sustaining, and can spread like wildfire - and after all, it’s the media outlet who is paying to spread the word!

On the downside, media stories are obviously much more different to control than are advertising campaigns. If your story isn’t "sold" properly to the media, you could even end up with more bad press than good. Novice media contacts and sloppy press releases could seriously injure your reputation and branding - so it’s a very good idea to let professionals take care of your PR.

However, as a first-timer, it’s sometimes hard to know where to turn. All PR agencies claim to be able to get you first-class publicity, but some of them are certainly better than others, since an agency is only as good as its media contacts. When shopping, try to strike the right balance. On the one hand, you should be wary of PR agencies that are too small. A company that is run out of some journalism student’s basement - even if it can offer you great prices and prompt customer care - will not have the media connections that you need. Public relations agencies should have name recognition that commands respect among editors, reporters and television or radio producers.

At the same time, a gargantuan PR agency may not be specialized enough to represent your company properly. For example, an agency that is used to dealing with technology news may not be well equipped to break a financial story. Your agency should also be capable of developing a campaign on a local or regional basis, if that is your business’ trade area. Find a company whose client roster includes businesses similar to your own, and don’t be shy about asking for references.

Finally, remember that PR agencies do a lot more than just write press releases. They also groom your executives for public appearances, and help you prepare for interviews. Any agency worth its salt should also help you anticipate questions, frame your company’s image and message, and identify appropriate media outlets. Before signing on, feel out your agency’s level of commitment by asking what specific service you can expect in exchange for your money.

Whether you’re catering to consumers, or operating at the B2B level, an effective PR campaign can grow your company virtually overnight. However, inept PR may prove to be worse than nothing - so just remember to test the waters.