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Blogs  / February 9, 2021

How a PR agency can contribute to your communications strategy, and how to select the right agency for your business

by Sean O'Neal, President

A successful communications strategy is the driving force behind building trust among all of your stakeholders, enhancing your corporate reputation and establishing your company as a leader in your industry. A strong PR agency that aligns with and understands your business can be an invaluable strategic adviser and resource for your brand in this endeavor.

However, not all brand and PR agency relationships are created equal. Over the last decade, Onclusive has been involved in many collaborations between our customers and their PR agencies, and we’re thrilled to have an opportunity to host several of our valued customers for a discussion around best practices and common mistakes in our upcoming webinar, The Complete Guide to Building an Impactful Relationship with your PR Agency.

Leading up to the webinar, we’d like to share an overview of the reasons to work with a PR agency, how an agency can contribute to your communications strategy, tips for selecting the right agency for your business, and how to set expectations for a productive relationship.

Why work with a PR agency, and is it right for your organization?

A PR agency is a communications consultancy that serves as an external resource, and ideally, an extension of your internal communications function. An agency can help your business by bringing in useful connections, leveraging best practices, generating fresh ideas and capturing the ‘bigger picture’—an objective perspective of your brand and your industry, which can be challenging for an in-house team.

That said, not every organization should hire a PR agency. If your company is a small startup with a limited budget, you may first want to hire a freelance PR consultant or an internal PR specialist, who can help you build awareness and potentially source a PR agency later on.

Or, if your company has a very specific communications need, such as deep product expertise or a niched B2B network in your sector, it may be optimal for you to build an experienced and well-connected in-house team that is integrated with the day-to-day operations of your business.

Alternatively, hiring a PR agency may be a smart move when you have clear business objectives that call for this type of investment, as well as the resources to support it. A strong agency will help you shape a communications plan that supports your corporate objectives.

Other reasons to work with a PR agency could be the need for extra resources, particular areas of expertise that do not exist in-house, or access to a larger network of quality relationships when your company’s own networks and channels reach their capacity for customer acquisition, finding talent and differentiating your brand in a noisy marketplace.

How a PR agency can contribute to your communications strategy

At its core, public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders across numerous platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of an organization—in other words, the main goal of PR is to boost the reputation of your brand.

To achieve this goal, a strong PR agency partner will use a mix of communications strategies and tactics to help you better understand your audiences, contribute to and execute your strategic communications plan, and provide counsel around policy decisions, courses of action and messaging. A typical PR agency toolkit can include some or all of the following:

  • Strategic counsel and advice
  • Reputation management
  • Crisis management
  • Media relations, including outreach and pitching
  • Analyst relations (e.g. for technology companies)
  • Social media management
  • Storytelling, content marketing and copywriting
  • Press release writing and distribution
  • Speech writing
  • PR event planning
  • Market research
  • Media training

The first step is to gain clarity on what your company most needs from a PR consultancy—is it all of the above, or specific expertise in just a few of these areas? Review your corporate objectives and communications goals, make a list of the key priorities and create a budget before going to the next step of selecting a PR agency to work with.

Selecting the right PR agency for your business

Once you are clear on your goals and priorities, you can start thinking about and researching PR firms that can help you meet those objectives. Here is our recommendation on what to look for in a PR agency:

  • Significant focus and expertise in your industry (e.g. technology, CPG, financial services, etc.)—make sure they understand your sector in depth
  • Current and past brand clients that are similar or related to your business
  • Ability to get specific types of press, and key media contacts you’re looking for (e.g. in certain publications where you want to be featured)
  • Strong cultural fit—can they find and “get” your voice, and are they leading the conversation?
  • Strong personality fit—get to know the account team you’ll work with and make sure you like them
  • Size and budget fit—ensure they are the right size for your organization, and their pricing aligns with your budget

This checklist will help you focus as you research different PR firms and create a shortlist of agencies you’d want to meet with. Before you contact them, write down a list of specific questions to ask that will help you evaluate your finalists. At the end of the day, your assessment should always include the agency’s ability to align with your business objectives, communications goals and success metrics.

Setting expectations around the PR agency’s role and working together

After you’ve chosen your PR agency, setting clear expectations about the level of support you need from them as your strategic partner, as well as what they need from you in order to deliver, will go a long way toward setting everyone up for success.

In the beginning of your working relationship with your new agency, you’ll want to spend ample time clarifying these expectations, educating them on your brand and your business, and discussing objectives, deliverables, timelines, processes and success metrics. For example, it is important to distinguish between “outputs” like the volume of media coverage and “outcomes” such as measurable website traffic increases.

To maintain an ongoing productive relationship with your PR agency, set a mutually agreed upon schedule of regular business reviews and communications strategy planning sessions. Not only will it ensure consistent alignment with your goals, processes and success metrics, but it can also help you overcome the reactive nature of PR.

Join us for “The Complete Guide to Building an Impactful Relationship with Your PR Agency” webinar on Thursday, February 25th! In this session, our panelists from both the brand and agency sides will provide guidance on selecting and onboarding a PR agency, setting goals, communicating strategies and providing constructive feedback in order to foster a productive relationship between your communications team and your agency. We will highlight best practices and discuss examples of relationships that worked, as well as ones that did not.