10 Questions To Ask A PR Firm Before Signing A Contract

Think about the last great article you read. The piece may have mentioned a few products or companies—possibly prompting you to research the
April 29, 2011

Think about the last great article you read. The piece may have mentioned a few products or companies—possibly prompting you to research them in more depth. Chances are, a public relations firm was behind that placement.

Editorial placements can turn into big business for companies of any size, giving organizations a credibility lacking in traditional advertisements.

If you're looking for a PR firm, here are 10 questions to ask before signing a contract:

Do you specialize?

PR firms come in all shapes, sizes and specializations. Some are experts in travel, others in home design, and others in entertainment. It is important to find an agency that knows your business.

“If you can work with an someone who knows your industry, there will be less of a learning curve and it can really work to your advantage,” says Jenna Oltersdorf, principal at Snackbox, a public relations and design firm in Austin, Texas. “If you can’t find someone who knows your specific industry, find someone who knows about something that parallels your industry.”

Who will be working on my account?

According to Oltersdorf, some agencies will send out their A-players to pitch, but then assign your account to another team with whom you’ve never met. It is important to meet the team/person who will be in charge of your business right off the bat.

What will be your approach to promoting my product or service?

“You want to make sure your PR agency is on the same page as you are,” says Jennifer Berson, president of Jeneration PR, a public relations firm focused on fashion, beauty, and lifestyle, based in Sherman Oaks, California. “You want your public relations approach to be in sync with your sales and marketing goals. Your agency needs to understand your products, competitive advantage, brand history and story."

How do you measure results?

This can be tough. Editorial placements are never guaranteed, so it is important to have a frank conversation about metrics.

According to Berson, most firms will measure ROI based on a comparable ad placement. For example, if a firm lands you a full-page story in Vogue, they may value the placement at the rate of a full-page ad in the same magazine.

“Circulation of the magazine and impressions are also important,” she adds. “That said, there are also things a firm can secure that aren’t measurable, such as brand awareness.”

What is included in a typical contract?

Before signing on the dotted line, make sure you are on the same page.

“Ask when they expect payment, what happens if payments are late, etc.,” Oltersdorf says.

Equally important is determining how expenses will be handled.

“Ask if your firm will charge for phone calls, packages, etc.,” suggests Berson. “Make sure there won’t be any surprises.”

How much do I need to spend to achieve my goals?

Editorial placements can take time. It is very rare for a PR firm to hit the ground running and have a story appear in The New York Times two days later. Newsstand magazines can have three-to-six month lead times, turning goals into a waiting game.

Come prepared to talk about goals right away, Oltersdorf recommends.

“Tell them what you want and ask them how many hours it should take,” she suggests. “Remember, it is always okay to negotiate. Make sure to have upfront conversations about money tied to goals.”

What do you need from me to hit the ground running?

Before interviewing a PR firm, gather together materials that will help them do their jobs more efficiently.

“A brand needs to be ready with product samples for media outreach,” says Berson. “Also, make sure to have high-res JPEGs of your product on clean, white backgrounds. I also recommend having a press kit. If you don’t have one, ask the agency if it will help you develop one and how much it will cost.”

How often will I hear from you?

This is incredibly important. Since editorial placements can take months to secure, small business owners are wise to communicate regularly with PR firms.

“It is reasonable to hear from your agency at least once per week—just a check-in to hear what they are generally working on,” says Berson. “It is also fair to get a report once per month on placements secured from the prior month and plans for the following month.

"In addition, you should be hearing from your agency with every new opportunity when they’ve secured it.”

Who else is on your client roster?

Before contacting a PR agency, check out their website for a client roster. From there, Oltersdorf recommends researching what is happening in the news with the clients listed.

“This will give you an indication of the caliber of work the agency is capable of,” she says, adding that some firms will list an outdated roster. “Ask for a list of current clients. Find out how your project will affect their workload and how you will compete for their attention.”

Who are your references?

“Hiring a PR firm is like hiring an employee—it is important to ask for references,” Oltersdorf says. “Always call or e-mail references. Also, look into the firm’s past clients and find out why they don’t work with the firm anymore.”