9 Tips for Working with a PR Agency

PR tips

You are a scaling startup, about to start working with a PR Agency. How do you get the biggest bang for your precious buck? Thank you to Ryan Greives, senior public relations specialist at cleverbridge, a global e-commerce provider, for this guest post. Cleverbridge is Catapult's first sherpa company of the Everest Program - a unique and innovative adviser program. Through the Everest Program, Catapult startups have direct access to cleverbridge leadership in different content areas (e.g., sales, marketing, operations, etc.) to receive guidance and expertise as needed, in both formal and ad hoc settings.

9 Tips for Working with a PR Agency

by Ryan Greives, senior public relations specialist, cleverbridge

Prior to cleverbridge, I was a vice president of national B2B and B2C PR and social media agency and worked with a wide variety of companies at all stages of growth. Often when having a call with a new client who was getting started with us, we would get the question, “what makes a good client?” or “what makes for the best client/agency relationship?” By simply asking this question, they had already knocked out one of the best things clients can do when they are coming on-board with any PR agency. However, many companies can limit the return they get from a PR firm, by simply not knowing how to effectively work with them.

Founder and CEO of marketing communications firm Arment Dietrich, Gini Dietrich, provides some great tips on when to think about using a PR firm and what you should consider as you interview for, and hire, your PR firm. However, with this post I’ve compiled some of the top things companies can do to gain the most from their PR investment.

1)     Ask how you can have the best client relationship

It seems like a simple question, but some clients never ask how they can enable PR agencies to do the best job on their account. If you’re going to pay for a PR agency, why not help them succeed? It’s like buying a brand-new car. It can get you to where you want to go, but if you never take the time to fill up with gas or change the oil every 3,000 miles, you might as well start walking.

2)     Have a good product or service

Products all have basic quality standards to meet. Cars shouldn’t break down. A laptop should turn on and allow you to do basic computing. But none of these things are what make consumers enthusiastic about products. I know you have the “most revolutionary product since the television,” but does it do anything beyond the bare minimums to be recognized in the product category?

3)     Communicate

Communication starts with the getting started meeting/call and must continue throughout the campaign. Sharing goals and expectations with your agency early on can help them achieve your PR and growth objectives. Your PR team can do great things if they are in the loop. So what are good things to communicate, you ask?

  • Upcoming product announcements
  • New company hires
  • New company partnerships, big customers, etc.
  • Upcoming events or tradeshows your company is attending or hosting
  • Interesting things that are happening within the industry
  • Anything else you think could possibly be relevant to the media (refer to #5)

4)     Provide feedback

A PR agency is doing a great job getting interest and securing coverage, but the client doesn’t give them any feedback on whether the coverage is even moving the needle with web traffic, conversions, sales, etc. Agencies can change their focus relatively quickly if they are informed the current PR plan needs to be scrapped, but they need client feedback.

Also, it’s always nice to give them a “good job” or “this is awesome!” when securing a big coverage hit. They know you pay them to get coverage, but it’s always nice to get a “thanks” every once in a while. Don’t you agree?

5)     Understand that they are the experts

While agencies love suggestions and feedback, as I mentioned, it is also important that clients recognize that they are the experts and that they are paying the agency to know and deal with the media. Sometimes, companies need to trust them to do their jobs - even if it isn’t something that they necessarily want to hear.

6)     Be accessible

PR reps are often at the mercy of a journalist’s deadline, which is sometimes within the hour, so it’s important to have access to the client at all times (or at least have some backup contacts at the company). It always baffled me when clients wouldn’t respond to media requests (interviews, images, info, etc.) in a timely manner. Companies pay agencies to get them media attention, but as soon as they “tee it up” for them, they’re nowhere to be found.

 7)     Realize that you aren’t always going to be the feature story

If your company name doesn’t start with Google, Microsoft, Apple or Facebook, you’re going to have to accept the fact that you might not always be the featured company in an article – at least for the time being. The goal as PR reps is to get you media coverage that will ultimately help you achieve your marketing and overall business goals. While they will always be working for the “big hit” or the feature story, companies should also appreciate the company/product round-ups and second-tier media coverage. It’s better to be included among competitors than not included at all.

8)     Have an understanding of PR, or at least the basics

This is one of the biggest battles PR reps face when it comes to client relationships. Unlike advertising, we cannot completely control the content or timing of coverage. We inform, influence, and encourage coverage, but what comes out is up to the editor. Here are a couple other basics:

  • Short leads vs. long leads – Just because we’re reaching out to national magazines right now, it doesn’t mean you will be included in next month’s issue. There is a lead time with all media - from minutes to a few days with bloggers, to 3-6 months with magazines.
  • Big media hits vs. targeted media hits – We know you want to be in the Wall Street Journal, and it may even help with sales, but it may not be the best audience for your new enterprise software solution.
  • Bad reviews are par for the course – This usually comes back to #2 (having a good product), but there are times when a certain editor or blogger just does not love your product and we cannot make them. That is what makes editorial so much more powerful than advertising – it is supposed to be unbiased from one person (expert) to another person. 

9)     Realize the agency is on your side

I think oftentimes clients can forget that a PR firm want tons of quality media coverage in top-tier media that drives their client’s sales and web traffic just as much the client does. If they don’t do a great job, they’ll lose your account. I think that’s great motivation in itself.

This is obviously not a complete list, but this certainly gives a good overview of how to make the most from your PR investment.

Ryan Greives, a senior public relations specialist at global e-commerce provider cleverbridgeis also the author of "PR Spin,” a technology PR industry focused blog. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.