How to Select the Right PR Firm

When you’re looking for outside help, the number of choices can be daunting.

When you’re looking for outside help, the number of choices can be daunting.

For many smaller and mid-sized organizations, media relations isn't a stand-alone function.

It's an activity that is either a small part of someone's job or is tag-teamed by multiple people.

Often, that's enough to get the job done.

But there are times when your in-house resources simply aren’t enough and you need to hire some outside help.

Finding a consultant or freelancer, though, can be a daunting task.

But by answering some key questions up front -- and being selective -- you stand a good chance of getting the help you need (and at a price you can afford).

Knowing When to Hire

So when should you consider outsourcing your media relations work?

Here are a few situations when it might make sense:

  • You are embarking on a new strategy or launching a new product. An outside firm can use its experience in media relations to help you identify key messages and execute a campaign that will help explain your new initiative to your target audiences.

  • You’ve been thrown into the center of a controversy and you don’t have enough in-house support to develop a communications strategy for handling the crisis—and for handling the media inquiries that accompany it. Without the right help, you run the risk of damaging your nonprofit's reputation and its ability to raise money.

  • You are looking to help an expert develop her voice as a thought leader, but she doesn't have much experience writing opinion pieces, delivering speeches, or appearing before the camera. An outside firm can work with you to identify opportunities, develop ghostwritten pieces, or provide media and speech training services.

  • You are looking to generate media attention outside of your local market and decide that you need the support of an outside firm that already has the contacts and credibility to help your organization get noticed by out-of-town or national media members.


In each of the cases above — and in many others — an outside agency or specialist can help you achieve results that would be difficult to achieve with your existing resources.

Questions to Answer

How can you make sure you find a firm or individual who won't waste your time or squander your money?

If you do your homework, you can often find experts who specialize in the type of media work you need (such as crisis communications, media training, or ghostwriting). And some firms specialize in working with organizations like yours.

To find the right expert or firm, it helps to answer a few key questions up front:

  • What are we looking to achieve? It always helps to know your goals before you start shopping for a consultant or firm. Once you've honed in on what you want to achieve, search for companies and people who specialize in meeting your needs. If you’re looking for help with a national campaign, for example, a local firm might not be the best fit. If you’re looking to develop your presence with a specific audience, you might search for companies that have experience with media outlets that hit that audience.

  • What is your timeline? Are you looking for something short term? Or do you need ongoing help? Having an idea of your needs will help you provide potential consultants with the parameters they need to bid on your project.

  • What is your budget? Before you start your search, have a sense of how much money you are willing to invest in the effort. Many consultants can design a scope of work for you that fits your budget. And if they aren't able to provide you with what you need for your budget, they likely aren't the right fit for you in the first place. Often, you can weed out a lot of bad fits by talking budget up front -- and you can avoid getting proposals that are out of scale with what you're able to afford.

Finding the Right Fit

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to go shopping.

But it’s often difficult to know where to start. To narrow your choices, think about the type of partner that best fits your needs.

For most, your choice will fall into one of three categories:

Big firms

Name-brand marketing and PR firms often have a wide range of capabilities. For instance, they can not only design your strategy, but they can also train staff, write press releases, and conduct media outreach on your behalf.

If your needs are extensive, such a firm might be your best bet. But there are often drawbacks. Some larger firms put their less experienced staff members on projects for nonprofits or take a more cookie-cutter approach to their work. If you’re looking at a bigger, full-service firm, take the time to find out who will actually be working with your organization and whether they have experience working with nonprofits and connecting with reporters who cover your areas of interest.

Specialty firms

If you already have some internal resources for its media relations or has a specific need or project, a speciality, or boutique, firm might be your best bet. A specialty firm might not have the range of capabilities of a full-service company, but if your needs are more specific or short term, it can often give you exactly what you need. You're also more likely to be working closely with a high-level expert than a junior staffer.

Freelancers

If your budget is smaller, or if you simply need an extra set of hands to carry out your strategy, you can hire a freelancer. Freelancers often need more direction and specific assignments. But they are also often able to provide you with what you need, quickly. And they can often do it for a lower cost than a firm.


Still need help? I'm happy to help you identify your needs and give you advice on finding the right consultant.

Drop me a line for guidance.