Are You Asking Your PR Agency the Wrong Questions?
Frequently Asked Questions that Miss the Point for Your New PR Campaign
Setting the right foundation for a successful working relationship between your company and your PR agency is important. Mutual respect, trust and open communication are crucial to a successful partnership — and to ensuring your brand gets the best possible return on your PR investment.
If you’ve been burned by your engagements with PR firms in the past, you might be skeptical as you commit renewed time, funds and mental bandwidth to a new agency contract. And while some healthy scrutiny is prudent, asking the wrong questions can steal attention and energy from a potentially productive relationship.
Here, we’re pulling back the curtain with a list of the most common questions we get from new and prospective clients. Here’s what not to ask — and why.
What Not to Ask Your PR Agency
How many reporters are you pitching? Can I see the media list you’ve created?
PR is highly strategic and the number of reporters pitched will not reflect the effort or quality of any media list. Any seasoned media relations expert will tell you: A targeted media list that is deeply researched and includes a select number of relevant contacts is much more powerful than a blast pitch that goes out to 1,000 irrelevant press contacts.
Your PR partner’s media contacts are their biggest professional assets. These relationships with reporters take years of effort and energy to cultivate. They also require a mutual understanding built on trust — and that requires us, as practitioners, to respect and protect reporters’ private, personal information.
Remember that you’ve hired a PR team for their media relations expertise. Before you make that investment, it’s imperative that you feel confident enough to trust that your agency has your best interests in mind and will know how to pitch the right contacts, at the right time.
Can I review your pitches?
A core part of your PR partner’s job is to craft the perfect pitch for the right reporter on your behalf. This includes hours — and often years — of work to build relationships with journalists, editors, freelancers, and media outlets. Especially today, with journalists’ inboxes cluttered to the brim with spam pitches and irrelevant promotions, a skilled media relations strategist will work carefully to produce highly customized pitches that take years of personal and industry context into account.
You wouldn’t give up a copy of your product patent, would you? The same logic applies in the PR profession. Don’t expect to be given the secret sauce! Instead, ask about the strategy behind the proposed pitch angles. How will your PR partner be targeting contacts and what types of publications are included?
How long will it take for this reporter to post coverage of our press release? And how much media coverage will we secure from one announcement?
It’s important to be patient when it comes to press coverage. It takes time and effort to build your brand’s relationship with a journalist — and there is never a guarantee that any specific reporter will cover your company, despite those efforts.
According to one study, reporters only respond to about 3% of the pitches that land their inboxes. Newsrooms are more short staffed and busier than ever. And they’re inundated with news. As a result, a publication’s content pipeline might be full for weeks, months or even a year in advance. A press release does not guarantee immediate coverage in any specific outlet.
But you can expect press release pickups. A wire service will distribute your release to a select number of specific news outlets and aggregators to re-post – that’s how wire services work! And you can always feel free to ask your PR partner to explain the strategy that goes into selecting the right wire service for your brand.
To secure specific coverage from high-priority outlets requires careful pitching and coordination, like any other media placement. Your PR team will guide in positioning your company news effectively, to set your news up with the best chance of generating coverage.
How are you going to boost my sales?
If you’re looking for a sales boost, you’re looking for marketing services.
While PR can certainly enhance sales through influential, brand-building media coverage, it is not a substitute for your sales department. PR builds credibility, reputation, thought leadership profiles, and brand positioning. Our role is to help you earn customer trust through the third-party credibility of the press.
Per most widely-accepted journalistic standards, reputable publications often won’t allow for sales-forward language as a part of their style guides. Most articles you’re featured in will not generate direct sales conversions. PR helps your company build brand awareness and bolsters your reputation as an industry leader. By producing coverage that demonstrates your expertise and unique perspective and position your brand as an industry leader, those press placements over time can improve your reputation and support your existing sales funnel.
What’s the minimum commitment I can make?
If you come to the table looking for a short-term commitment, PR is not for you.
PR is a long game. It takes time to cultivate meaningful relationships between your company and its target media outlets. And it requires you to prove your mettle as a thought leader and your value as an expert resource for outlets in your industry.
How much of your own time you put into the PR partnership is also a part of the investment. To give your PR team the best opportunity to learn how your unique business works and what your brand hopes to achieve as a business, you must be ready to invest in the onboarding process. And to ensure your agency is aligned with the changing priorities your brand might develop in the future, expect active communication with your agency team to ensure they are equipped with all the correct messaging.
Pro tip: Journalists also work on deadlines. Often, you’ll be asked to provide real-time responses to your PR team, to help your brand capitalize on relevant news trends and topics. Be ready to make yourself available to approve press statements, provide original commentary or hop on the phone for a last-minute chat with a journalist.
Can we pay per placement? And can I pay you to get me into a specific outlet?
Earned media coverage is, well, earned. That means it is never guaranteed.
There are many advantages to a PR strategy that focuses their efforts on earned media instead of paid coverage. The two most obvious are: 1) Earned placements do not cost your company any additional investment and 2) It is the most organic way for your brand to build credibility and increase brand awareness, because earned coverage reads as more authentic than paid.
Pay-per-placement PR models can be misleading. Typically, they leverage pay-for-play media opportunities in irrelevant or low-quality outlets and blogs. According to this Cision report, 92% of consumers around the world trust earned media more. Most customers that come across a paid placement will almost immediately recognize that the coverage isn’t genuine and most likely will lose interest and trust.
Why didn’t Mr. Anonymous Reporter cover our story after he responded? Can you follow up?
In earned media, coverage is never guaranteed — even if an interview has already been completed.
Sometimes reporters will share feedback with your PR representative when they decide not to move forward with a story. And sometimes they don’t.
Maybe their editor reassigned them to something urgent, or they lost interest in the story, or another source came along and provided more relevant commentary.
As mentioned earlier, journalists are incredibly busy with a quickly evolving news cycle. They already have inboxes that are slammed beyond what most other professionals can imagine. Your PR team — if they’re good at what they do — plays a role in making a reporter’s job easier. Adding an excessive number of follow-ups can potentially hurt your brand’s reputation with an editor. Too much pushiness can even result in a reporter blocking future pitches about your brand. It’s better to check in strategically, when your PR team has a new point of value, commentary or news to offer to earn that reporter’s trust and interest.
Can we skip the brand analysis?
Can you go scuba diving without an oxygen mask? Certainly! But should you? Absolutely not.
A brand analysis is quite similar. Your PR agency needs to understand your brand intimately to position you in the best possible light with the most advantage to your business goals. While a brand assessment is time-consuming, that work pays off in that your PR partner will help identify the opportunities that exist to achieve your company’s broader brand goals.
For those who are new to hearing the term — a brand analysis helps you define the brand you want to be, establishes alignment with your broader business goals and clearly defines how you want to be represented in the media. A brand analysis — or at TR, our Trust Analysis — is a critical step in the process to get you PR ready.
If you’re in the market for a PR firm that will change your expectations of the industry for the better, reach out to us here.
Trust Relations Team