Public relations is a broad term that encompasses things like brand awareness, media relations, publicity, corporate communications, reputation management, and more. Since it can be expensive to hire an in-house public relations team, small and mid-sized businesses typically outsource their public relations needs. For larger, enterprise businesses, it can make more sense to hire an in-house team to work with the external PR agency, conducting media outreach, executing organization objectives, developing key messaging, and assisting in crisis communications, among other things.
A skilled PR agency can greatly benefit any business, no matter the size. Since public relations spans so many different functions, though, it can be confusing to understand exactly what PR agencies do. In this article, we’ll share the top seven PR agency services and give you 9 tips for hiring a PR agency that’s right for your business. We’ll wrap up with a section about how much it costs to hire a PR agency.
9 Tips for Hiring a PR Agency to Create and Maintain a Positive Brand Reputation:
What Does a PR Agency Do (and Why Do You Need One)?
PR agencies have traditionally worked to get their clients something called “earned” coverage. This includes guest posting opportunities, free sources of traffic, backlinks, a better reputation, and brand visibility. This extends offline to local news, magazine coverage, radio air time, and other exposure in non-digital media.
In addition to these traditional services, some PR agencies also offer advertising services—PPC ads, sponsored advertising, paid social media, and more. While it may be enticing to choose a PR agency that does it all, it’s important to make sure that the PR agency you’re hiring meets your needs, is highly qualified to do what you require, and doesn’t include tons of additional services that you don’t want. If you don’t need it, you shouldn’t be paying for it.
While a PR agency can come in handy when you need to recover from reputation damage, there’s a lot more to hiring a PR agency than crisis management. In fact, a PR agency can help you build and maintain a positive reputation, better positioning your business to recover quickly if you mess up, and making your reputation more resistant to negativity in the first place.
PR Agency Services
As we mentioned earlier, PR is a broad term covering everything from publicity to guest blogging. Here are some of the key services you should look for when seeking to hire a PR agency.
All PR agencies should start with strategy development. This is where they dig into your strengths and weaknesses as a brand, what sets you apart from your competitors, who the audience is that you should be targeting, and what success will look like for your business. This is the starting point for developing a communications plan that drives results.
The right PR agency will help you define your business’s vision, mission, and goals in a way that really resonates with your target audience. They will turn your messaging into elevator pitches, mission statements, and backgrounders, and come up with the best words to associate with your brand.
Media relations is just one of the services a PR agency offers. PR agencies typically have access to the contacts that your brand needs to get your messaging out to the media and, by extension, your target audience. This is a time-consuming process that sets your business up for long-term success.
Content marketing can help your business attract potential customers, drive leads, promote your products or services, and get more conversions. Where media relations uses external content to make your brand more credible, content marketing services turn your brand messaging into content that you use on your owned channels like your website or blog, social media platforms, etc.
Social Media Marketing
Hiring a PR agency to handle your social media marketing is a great idea. A quality PR agency will use their strategy and audience identification to find the perfect social media platforms for you to use to reach and engage with your target market. Since different social media platforms attract different demographics, having a PR agency that understands the nuances can improve your social media marketing ROI.
Events and Experiential Marketing
Your PR agency will also be able to help with promotional events and experiential marketing opportunities. Events offer your brand a unique opportunity to come face-to-face (or screen-to-screen if you’re participating in a virtual event) with potential customers. This can grow your audience and nurture brand loyalty.
Influencer marketing is huge. Consumers trust people more than they trust brands, so having influencers who work with your brand is vitally important to build an authentic brand persona and develop the trust that will turn potential leads into paying customers. If you’re working with several influencers, though, managing the process can quickly get out of hand. If you need someone to manage influencer relations for your brand, there are PR agencies offering that service.
Hiring a PR Agency: 9 Tips
If you don’t already have a PR agency or in-house PR team, you should get one. Hiring the right PR agency can be difficult; we recommend reaching out to your network for recommendations. As you’re searching for just the right agency, here are 9 tips that will make hiring a PR agency a lot easier.
1. Set Goals Before Anything Else
As with any marketing strategy, you’ll need to define your goals before making any decisions about hiring a PR agency. Brainstorm a list of the things you hope to accomplish with a PR agency and then narrow the list to those goals that are most important to you. Here are some examples to get you started:
- Increase brand awareness
- Be seen as a thought leader
- Gain attention for a specific product or service
2. Consider All Options
You essentially have three options in terms of hiring for PR:
- An in-house team
- A PR agency
- A combination
Each of these options has a different price tag and will require different levels of involvement from your company. The best option, if you can swing it, is to have a combination of internal and external PR professionals (even if you only have one internal PR person). An internal PR person has greater knowledge of your overall business marketing strategy and can work with the external PR agency to build a comprehensive PR strategy for your brand.
3. Calculate Your PR Budget
Hiring a PR agency can get expensive. If you don’t set a budget and convey that budget to prospective PR agencies, you might find yourself getting too far along the process of hiring a PR agency you can’t afford, wasting your time and theirs.
When calculating your PR budget, be sure to include:
- Base retainer
- A plan for what happens when the PR agency needs to exceed the budget
4. Decide on an RFP (or No-RFP) Process
If you’ve never hired a PR agency you’ll probably want to go through a formal RFP process. Here’s the basic process:
- Outline your goals and what you want the PR agency to do
- Create a list of prospective PR agencies (aim for 10)
- Reach out to the prospective agencies on your list to see if they’re taking on new clients and request detail of their qualifications
- Once you have details on each of your prospective agencies, choose the top three
- Request proposals from your top three choices
5. Ask for the Right Information in RFPs and Pitches
If you hire a firm through a formal RFP process there will probably be a presentation from each of the finalists where they pitch you on what they have to offer. But what information will they share? When you’re preparing for the presentation portion of the process, it will save you a lot of time if you request these three things:
- Ask presenting agencies to limit the amount of information they share about their own agency. You didn’t pick them out of a hat and already know that they’re one of the PR agencies you want to represent you; you don’t need them to convince you of their value at this point.
- Ask that the pitch be presented by the people who will be handling your account. Everyone wants to put their best foot forward, but if you’re being won over by the hard-hitters who won’t actually be working on your account, you may not be happy with the team you end up with.
- Ask that the entire team that will be working with your account be involved in the presentation. This is a great opportunity to get a closer look at the group dynamic and understand what each team member has to offer and how they think.
6. Choose a PR Agency Size
There are both large and small PR agencies but don’t think that if you’re a smaller company a smaller PR agency is right for you. Each PR agency has a unique team and a unique approach to public relations. Larger PR agencies tend to have broader reach and larger networks, but a smaller PR agency might be able to offer better services to a niche industry, local expertise, and a more personal relationship.
7. Find a Likable PR Agency
You absolutely need a qualified and capable PR agency team but it’s also important to actually like them and want to work with them. Think of your PR agency as an extension of your team instead of outsiders. If you were looking to hire for an internal PR team would you want these people? If you don’t like them, you’re not going to have a great experience working with them.
8. Make Sure They Offer at Least One Really Good Idea
During the pitch meetings, each PR agency will likely bring marketing campaign ideas based on your RFP. Don’t judge them too harshly. Remember, they’re coming into the pitch only with the knowledge you’ve provided. However, they should be able to come up with at least one campaign idea that really wows you.
9. Understand Your Contract
Once you choose the PR agency you want to hire, you’ll need a contract or statement of work. It’s likely that the agency will already have this document ready to go. Be sure to read it carefully and consult a lawyer if possible. While it’s unlikely that the PR agency is trying to fool you in some way, it still makes sense to review the contract for:
- What you get
- ...and more
Don’t be shy about asking for revisions to the contract if certain parts don’t work for you.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a PR Agency?
So, now that you know how to hire a PR agency, you’re probably wondering how much you can expect to pay. According to the Holmes Report, PR agency spend has been on the rise (2019). The number of SMOs and CCOs who manage budgets greater than $100 million, PR spend accounts for 31% of their budgets. For those with budgets between $50–$75 million, PR spend comes in around 17% of the budget.
Of course, what you end up paying for PR services depends on which services you need and the size of the agency. Most PR agencies bill hourly against a monthly retainer and can cost between $100–$500 per hour for each person on the team. Monthly, this would result in retainers of $3,000–$5,000 per month.
It’s important to remember that PR is an investment in the reputation of your business. Hiring a PR agency is a great way to supplement your existing marketing efforts, build brand awareness, and increase both traffic and sales.
Keep Your Reputation Pristine With a PR Agency
By now you should have everything you need to hire just the right PR agency for your brand. But once you hire an agency, your job isn’t done. For the best results, be ready to act as a partner to ensure that the strategy and messaging they produce is what you want. The 9 tips for hiring a PR agency that we’ve shared here are a great starting point to help you find and engage the right PR agency for your brand. With so many PR agencies of all sizes available that are ready and willing to create and maintain a positive reputation for your brand, you’ll find the perfect match in no time!