How to Ask Your PR Agency the Right Questions
10 Conversation Starters to Build a Powerful Relationship with Your PR Agency
It’s important to set the right foundation for a successful working relationship with your public relations (PR) agency. If you’ve been burned by PR in the past, you might be skeptical — and understandably so. After all, PR is a substantial investment for any brand, both in terms of traditional costs and the trust required to place your brand reputation into the hands of a new strategic partner. It’s important once you’ve found the right partner to lay the groundwork for a partnership of mutual confidence and respect.
In our previous edition of Trust Weekly, we covered a list of common questions that can actually inhibit the success of your agency relationship. This week, we’ll share how to ask your new PR partner the right questions to protect your brand — and your PR investment.
Questions to Ask Your PR Agency
What tools and methods do you use to measure success?
Most agencies will introduce key performance indicators (KPIs) during the onboarding process for a new client. Each KPI measures performance over time for a specific objective you and your PR partner are working to achieve. A good PR agency will work with you as a strategic partner to select and define the right KPIs to make your campaign goals more tangible. At the start of your partnership, you should communicate what your overall business goals are and be open to hearing how your PR agency can support them. After all, your agency partner’s ultimate goal should be to use the power of PR to support your long-term business goals.
One example of a KPI might be the type of coverage your PR team secures. Maybe you’re looking for your company to have more visibility in industry-related trade publications. Or perhaps you’re looking to distribute a certain number of press releases next quarter, to satisfy the goals set forth by your board of directors and support media coverage and SEO strategy. Maybe you’re seeking to build your reputation as an industry thought leader.
Setting expectations and establishing how you’ll work together to measure success ensures your PR relationship will progress in the right direction.
How long does it take to achieve results? When will I start to see press placements?
Set realistic expectations with your PR partner. An experienced PR team should be able to thoroughly walk you through the process it will take to reach your specific goals. The best PR teams will be honest with you about what it will take to get there.
When it comes to media coverage, there’s a great deal of unseen work behind every press placement. Media relations requires more than just firing off an email to a reporter or putting a press release over the wire. A skilled PR practitioner will spend time on strategy, to identify the right contacts, reach out to those targets at an appropriate time, and customizing every pitch they send — from the subject line to the closing salutation.
It might surprise you to learn that 44% of journalists report receiving PR pitches at least 20 times per day. As any busy brand manager with an email address can imagine: Your PR team’s creativity and experience will be crucial in helping your brand story to break through that clutter.
All good things come with time. The same is true for a valuable media placement that will move the needle for your brand. Successful media relations results from hard work and careful planning by your PR team.
Ask about the typical lifecycle of a particular type of campaign in your industry and understand the different timelines for trade publications, podcasts and top-tier opportunities.
Do I have a dedicated point person or manager? Will the senior people from the PR proposal be on my account?
Coming into your PR partnership, you should understand your agency’s team structure. Sometimes, agencies will put their best people forward to conduct a fancy pitch and help sell themselves as the right choice. And, unfortunately, many agencies will then turn around and staff the day-to-day of your account with more junior team members — leaving you to wonder where those experienced practitioners from your pitch meeting went. A dedicated and reliable agency won’t subject you to a bait-and-switch.
At Trust Relations, the people that show up when we pitch a company are the team members you will see on your account as well. We customize our “Dream Teams” with senior managers and talented junior support, and we take a great deal of pride in matching every client with team members whose experience and expertise match your industry. Be advised this is not the industry standard — as much as we believe it should be.
Like in other industries, studies have showcased the turnover rate in the PR field, which indicates the negative impacts of many traditional agency structures. If you notice that your agency is having a hard time keeping employees, or if a senior leader at the firm has pitched you but your account will be run by a junior person with one year of experience, take it as a red flag. Your account team should always have a consistent, senior strategic leader.
Will PR require a lot of my time/effort? I’m very busy already!
PR is not a set-and-forget process — your time is just as important as the budget you invest in your PR efforts.
Today’s news cycle is fast and high-pressure. Your responsiveness and interview availability can quite literally make or break every media opportunity your PR team secures on your behalf. Ensure that you understand what your PR team will need from you in terms of materials, interview availability, scheduling procedures, metrics, data, customer interviews, and case studies for a specific press opportunity.
Your company should have dedicated spokespeople who are trained and available for quick-turn phone interviews or immediate written commentary. Those individuals should be well-versed in your industry and able to deliver your brand messages effectively. If you don’t have a handful of available spokespeople on staff, ask your PR agency for help. A good strategic partner will be happy to provide media training for any potential spokespeople, to ensure the best possible interview outcomes, even when reporters ask difficult or uncomfortable questions — as required by the nature of their role.
To set the partnership up for success, ask for a clear understanding of what your PR team will need to help you reach your goals, and be prepared to dedicate time and resources to provide those assets to make your campaign newsworthy.
What can I expect in terms of the amount of media coverage our company will receive? Are placements guaranteed?
As PR practitioners, we’d love nothing more than to start your campaign with immediate brand features in Forbes or TechCrunch. The reality is that it won’t happen overnight, especially if your brand is just beginning to build relationships with journalists.
PR is a long-term investment. Results are never guaranteed. And firms that do guarantee coverage often use a pay-to-play model rather than securing meaningful earned media placements. Consumers today are savvier than ever to the ways digital marketing and PR impact the media they consume. When customers desire authenticity, paid placements can be viewed far less credible than earned media and risk losing the interest of potential customers.
Understanding your agency’s pitching strategy and approach is key. The news cycle across different media platforms (trade, national, regional, and broadcast) operates quite differently. So, you should ask about the realistic timelines your PR partner projects it will take to achieve your brand’s specific goals. Consider your KPIs and set goals that will reach your higher objectives, like increasing brand awareness across industry-related publications.
After we distribute our press release, what happens next?
Once your agency has written your press release, gathered the supporting assets, and made sure your announcement is press-ready — it’s time for distribution.
Depending on the news and announcements highlighted within the press release, you and your PR agency may agree to uploading the release onto a distribution service, such as PRNewswire or PRWeb. This is what PR professionals mean when we say we’ve put your release “on the wire.” When your press release goes live on the wire, it allows industry-related publications to syndicate the release verbatim, directly onto their website, without the time required to conduct interviews or write a story.
For a more newsworthy announcement, your PR team will target its efforts to pitch your press release announcement to target press contacts to cover the story. As mentioned earlier, this takes more effort and time, as there are more steps involved than just sending out an email with your company news. Journalists may want to interview company representatives or test out the highlighted products, while still working against their own deadlines and an evolving news cycle, to write about the announcement in their own words.
The specifics of that strategy vary between each announcement, and your PR partner will advise you on the best approach to take to maximize the chances of having your story covered. Familiarizing yourself with these common PR processes will empower you to work as a better partner to your agency and achieve better outcomes.
How will you integrate public relations with our other marketing efforts?
Success requires a unified front. When creating your company’s comprehensive communications strategy, PR and marketing are two important components that should be considered.
PR and marketing share the goal of building brand credibility and improving your company’s reputation. Together, they communicate your key messages to your target audience and can help maximize your ROI.
In a new PR partnership, time should be dedicated to discussing what your PR team’s role will be in your broader integrated marketing plan. Ask how these two areas of strategic communications can uplift each other to strengthen your messaging, build credibility, reach your target audience, and enhance your company’s impact on the industry.
Overall, integrating PR with your other marketing efforts will deliver greater awareness to your audience by creating a cohesive narrative across your owned and earned media channels. In short — your brand voice will be consistent at every touchpoint, from your marketing emails, to your blog posts, to your TikTok videos, to your feature story in a leading trade outlet.
How do you ensure your media lists are up-to-date or you are speaking with the right journalists to cover our story?
It’s important to know whether your PR partner has the right kinds of press contacts in place to help build your brand reputation. For example, does the PR agency have a stronger regional reach than national? Are the media hits they are claiming mainly from pay-to-play opportunities? Does your agency have established relationships with journalists in your industry?
As publicists, it is our job to build, maintain and protect symbiotic relationships with media contacts. We work tirelessly to connect with journalists in the right markets and build relationships with new reporters at industry-related publications. Our expertise as media relations specialists is in knowing how to pitch your company’s story in a way that will attract press interest without having to pay for the article to be written.
Do I have to consider crisis management for my PR strategy?
We want the best for your business, always. In an ideal world, nothing would go wrong for the brands we represent. Unfortunately, the reality is that most companies will face some sort of crisis in their lifetimes. And it’s best to be prepared for “when” rather than “if” it will happen.
Crisis management helps maintain a company’s presence and reputation during a high-pressure situation. An example of a crisis situation might be launching a new website that crashes on the first day, product shipping issues or malfunctions, publicly-reported misconduct by company staff, or any number of other unknowable risks. And, when handled incorrectly, these types of situations can decrease the confidence your target audience may have in your company.
While having a crisis communication strategy may not seem necessary for your successful and flourishing company, it’s always important to be prepared for the unexpected. Crisis planning is like insurance for your brand reputation. You hope never to need it, but you wouldn’t go without it would you?
We can’t predict when a crisis will happen, there are steps that your PR partner can proactively take to prepare for potential crisis communications, when the time comes. A crisis communications plan will help every member in every department of your company know how to react and what they will need to do if a catastrophe occurs.
How often will I be updated on account activity and results to date?
Communication should happen regularly via email, meetings and even workplace chat carriers like Slack. When your agency is proactively pitching your company and working with media contacts, success means setting up interviewers for your brand or submitting sample requests for journalists who are interested in testing your product. As feedback and interest is received, or media placements go live, your PR team should be sharing these updates in real-time. This ensures your brand is positioned to act quickly, and meet the reporter’s often-urgent deadlines.
Depending on what you and your PR team have agreed upon, you may also meet bi-weekly or monthly to align on current initiatives that you have in the works – this may include media relations, award entries, brand messaging, and planning for goals to strive for in the following month.
If you’re ready to kick-start your PR efforts and get rolling on building your brand’s reputation, contact us here!
Trust Relations Team