How do I choose the right PR agency?

I’ve recently parted company with my PR advisors after a distinct lack of coverage. How do I ensure I get the right business on board to generate the publicity my business needs?

A. Michael Welch of Black Circles answers:

This is a tricky area that can take some time to get right. We’ve been through four or fi ve PR fi rms since we started, ranging from oneman bands to large agencies.

We found that all of them delivered coverage in first three months, but then it tailed off. There is certainly a honeymoon period with some PR firms.

In the end, we put the contract out to tender and identified the firms that have delivered good coverage in our sector. We told them to analyse our business and asked them what they could do for us in terms of stories and what contacts they had on local and national titles.

The agency we chose promised us coverage we could quantify – they were very specific. We paid them an agreed fee per month over 12 months, and stipulated that we wouldn’t pay them for any month that they didn’t generate coverage. We ended up with far more coverage that we expected.

You’ve got to have your objectives clear from the start. Work out what you are trying to achieve, identify through the PR firm who to target and then pay them accordingly.

You should also make these guys fight for your business by tendering the contract. These are relationship contracts, so it’s the person who works on your account that counts. Make sure that the person pitching for your business will actually be working on your account – the company they work for is ultimately just a vehicle.

Ask them if they have evidence of working in your industry in the past. Commit to a long-term contract on a retained basis. Three months is a good trial period length, but only commit to an amount that you can afford to lose.

You must get someone in you trust – you’ve got to be confi dent in them. Make sure you approve every press release – we review every bit of coverage out there on a fortnightly basis. Nothing goes out unless it’s been signed off.

Make sure you review where your business is being profi led, and make sure that you don’t get drawn into profi les of the founder rather than the business – it’s the business that you ultimately want to push.

We started with the national story on me, and then focused on the business, so we switched to local coverage of our franchises. The community is more responsive to coverage on a local level, while the national press is more about building a brand.


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