From our founder: 5 questions to ask when hiring a boutique PR firm
[This post was written by 3Points principal Drew Mauck.]
At 3Points, we enjoy the process of developing new business and forging the professional relationships with clients necessary for kicking off and sustaining effective public relations.
Over the past eight years, we’ve won some great business, but like all boutique agencies, we’ve sometimes been passed over for the bigger brands because potential clients think bigger names feel like a safer choice. However, this is the wrong way to think about the process. When you’re evaluating a PR agency as a potential partner, you need to think first and foremost about fit.
If the fit between an agency and client is right, the agency’s “big name” status, or lack thereof, is irrelevant. If the fit is not right, it’s time for both parties to go in other directions. We are very willing to turn away business if the match doesn’t seem like a good fit for both parties, and we then direct that business towards a provider we think could be a better fit.
It can be difficult to determine fit prior to actually working together, but there are a few steps you can take to get a sense of whether a PR partner is right for you. Before choosing a firm to represent you, here are the major questions you should consider asking:
Have you worked with clients in our industry before?
Domain expertise is incredibly important to consider when choosing an agency; you don’t want to have to teach a firm about your industry, much less pay them to sit and listen to you explain your business. It’s critical to find a PR firm that either falls squarely within your industry niche or has the ability to gain quickly a deep understanding of it, as demonstrated by their past work with other companies. Searching for this kind of fit must remain a top priority during your search. Without your PR firm having that deep understanding early on in the relationship, it will take longer to see the results of your PR efforts.
Who will be running the account? What does their workload look like? How long have they been at the firm?
Costs of switching from one account director to another can seriously slow things down. In some respects, each time you are handed to a new account director, you are back to square one. Find a firm where the most senior account directors have been on the team for at least a few years, and where one of these directors will hold primary responsibility for your account. The fact of their longevity at the firm shows that they have been challenged and fulfilled and will likely have their own processes in place to help you succeed. Furthermore, look for firms where primary account leadership responsibilities aren’t completely interchangeable between those managing the account. PR efforts — the best ones — will take months to properly unfold. Cultivating an uninterrupted relationship with your primary account director is something you should strive for.
How does your agency set goals for the relationship? Do you practice client immersion?
Early in my career, my colleagues and I would show up at client meetings and almost entirely depend on that client to give us explicit direction. There was a lot of unnecessary, unuseful communication that took the form of long email chains and conference calls, and yet those communications did not lead to nearly as much output as I believe was necessary. That’s not how we roll at 3Points.
One of the hallmarks of our firm is that we set goals with our clients every quarter, goals that are related to the client’s overarching business strategy. Another is that our team often works regularly on-site at clients’ offices. We believe that the more time we spend immersed in the client’s home environment, the more passion, chemistry, and great ideation we develop. After a few months, 3Points should feel like part of the team, not a siloed PR group that swoops in when there is something major happening. Our clients would recommend that you find a firm that implements these integration strategies — this is the type of firm you want to work with.
How are your fees determined?
This question can be challenging because we live in era of on-demand services. It’s common that prospects may want to turn PR on and off as they would any other app, like Grubhub or Lyft. But, as we know from Lorna Kiewert’s popular PR as Fitness blog post, for PR to really work, you must stay the course. However, the requirements of staying this course can often seem ambiguous. You want to be mindful of your budgets, you want an engagement that’s worth the time and money for both parties involved. Therefore, you need to understand how and why the firm in consideration determines fees and lengths of contract. First, how did the firm arrive at this fee, and where does your money go? Make sure you receive an answer to this question, and that it is one you understand fully.
Why have you suggested this specific length of engagement?
Even though you, the client, need to be committed to the PR process, it doesn’t mean you should sign up for a year-long contract right off the bat. See if the firm offers a “rolling contract,” which usually means either side can opt out for any reason with appropriate notice (such as three or four months). With any initial contract shorter than this, the firm may not feel like you are invested in successes they could win for you, and anything longer can induce in the firm a false confidence or laziness. The objective is to make sure your PR team feels like you are committed to them (after all, they are representing you, and you want them to be excited and on point), but don’t commit to something that doesn’t create a bit of pressure to perform day in and day out.
Equipped with these questions (and the answers you receive), you will be armed with clarity and perspective as you look to hire a boutique PR firm. Do not settle, and remember that finding the right match ultimately means developing mutual understanding and respect — a professional relationship — between you and your PR partner.