Research indicates businesses increasingly rely on the public relations industry to develop and implement innovative, cost-effective communication strategies. And, with the increased demand for social media marketing, consultants who can integrate traditional and digital communication strategies to deliver stronger results are in high demand.
But, that begs the question: How do you find a PR firm that can bridge the traditional and digital divide to help you achieve your business goals? When researching and interviewing potential candidates, incorporate some—or all—of the following questions to separate the “doers” from the “talkers.”
1. Why do you think your firm is best suited for our needs? Why should we pick you?
2. Can you share multiple case studies from clients with budgets similar to ours that show how your firm combined traditional and digital PR tactics to achieve measurable results?
3. How will you manage my account? (Follow up questions here include: Who will be on my account team? How long have they been with your company? Who will set the strategy? Who will be my day-to-day contact? If the director of strategy is not the primary contact, what kind of skills and experience does the day-to-day contact bring to the relationship?)
4. What kinds of metrics do you use to evaluate the success of a PR campaign that integrates traditional and digital tactics? At what point in the implementation process does measurement occur? How do measurement tools inform PR campaigns? (Hint: Measurement shouldn’t happen last. One of the biggest benefits of digital communication is the ability to measure—and make necessary adjustments—mid-campaign.)
5. How do you incorporate social technology to strengthen traditional PR (i.e. media relations, community outreach, crisis communication or event planning)?
6. Conversely, how do you incorporate traditional PR tactics to give a boost to online activities?
7. What kind of experience do you have building and sustaining an online community? Can you offer concrete examples to illustrate how you’ve leveraged an online community to achieve bottom-line business goals?
8. What services do you use for media research? What’s your approach to pitching journalists? (Another hint: The best answers will focus on the need to do research and develop personalized pitches. If they blast press releases out to large databases, that’s probably not what you want.)
9. Do you treat bloggers like media, or do you approach blogger relations differently than traditional media outreach? Explain your approach. (Note: Bloggers answer to their community, while journalists answer to editors, so you can’t lump them together. If a firm preaching “integrated communication” treats them the same, it’s a major cause for concern.)
10. While we hope we never face a crisis situation, it’s better to be prepared than caught off-guard. Tell us about your experience managing a crisis situation that involved both online and offline stakeholders/audiences.
Other things to consider
As you narrow your search for a PR consultant, also consider each candidate’s intangible skills. These attributes can be the difference between a so-so relationship and one that generates above-average results. For example:
- Seek a PR partner…not just another vendor. Think of a PR consultant as an extension of your company. The team assigned to your account should be fully ingrained in your business and industry. With any new consultant, there will be a learning curve—you need to be a willing teacher, and the consultant needs to be an eager student. The reverse is also true. As a client, you need to be open to listen to the consultant’s counsel and fresh ideas.
- Think strategy before tactics. As you’re interviewing potential consultants, be wary of the ones who think Facebook and Twitter are the answer. Those two sites may be part of the solution, but what’s the plan? How do they fit into a broader communication program? There are plenty of consultants out there who can string together some buzzwords to sound tactically smart. The real value is in a consultant who can develop and implement communication strategies that feed into your company’s overall business goals.
- If you’re not quick, you’re not relevant. Thanks to the immediacy of social media and the breakneck pace of news, response times are critical. You need a PR person who is equipped to navigate today’s communication landscape and the expectation of immediacy. Waiting a few days—or in some cases a few hours—to respond isn’t smart business.
- PR pros need to be trend spotters. You rely on the PR pro to be on the lookout to identify new trends that your company can leverage. For example, can you provide a local or industry-specific example to illustrate a national trend? Additionally, trend spotting can take the form of “storytelling”—what new tools or technology should you be employing to effectively disseminate your company’s message? It’s the PR person’s responsibility to be on the lookout and to present you with new ideas and opportunities.
Note: This post is written based on the assumption that most small- to mid-size businesses aren’t going through a lengthy, formal RFP process. If you need an RFP, also refer to this post from Todd Defren on how to streamline RFPs.
Image credit: purmar