Six Benefits of Hiring a Public Relations Agency for Marketing and Communications Success
Once companies are clear on what public relations is and its benefits, the question of whether or not to hire a public relations agency often comes next. Or even after making the decision that a PR agency will help further their business goals, the process of finding the right PR agency partner may leave companies with new questions about what they should expect from their PR agency and what success looks like.
Answering these questions first requires an understanding of what a PR agency does—and doesn’t do.
What is a PR Agency and What Does it Do?
PR agencies are responsible for elevating companies’ positioning in the media. Unlike marketing and advertising agencies who focus on owned and earned media, PR agencies are dedicated entirely to earned, third-party endorsements through the media.
This goes far beyond simply communicating with the media, though. PR agencies should operate as an extension of a company’s marketing and communication team, overseeing any activities that directly—or indirectly—influence external perceptions of that company.
Having been around the block a time or two in the last 15+ years, we know that these activities can vary on any given day based on our clients’ immediate priorities. Some of the more common responsibilities of a PR agency include:
- Brainstorming and workshopping company messaging
- Crafting media-facing narratives
- Turning newsworthy moments into longform stories
- Reacting to breaking news
- Writing thought leadership content
- Managing relationships between executives and journalists
- Generating inbound leads through external media coverage
- Breaking companies into new markets and geographical regions
- Getting on industry analysts’ and influencers’ radars
- Drafting award-winning submissions
- Securing executives’ spots on centerstage at leading conferences and events
Read on to learn more about the specific benefits PR agencies deliver and why, in many cases, only they are equipped to do so.
Public Relations Service
The benefits of hiring a PR agency stem from the range of services they offer. A good PR agency should create a custom scope of work for each of their clients that connects the client’s specific business goals with public relations services and tactics, and therefore, results that influence those goals.
A PR plan is the backbone of any effective PR program. PR agencies should guide companies through a thoughtful and strategic planning process (often before any other PR activities even take place). While any predetermined media goals can be reflected in a company’s strategic PR plan, PR goals should ultimately be a direct reflection of a company’s overall business goals. For instance, growth goals, exit strategies, prospective client goals—the list goes on.
It’s important for marketing and communications teams to be involved in the PR planning process in order to create comprehensive strategies. When done well, these strategies can serve as a guide for companies’ larger communications efforts, including everything from social media to corporate communications and demand generation.
Every service performed by a PR agency should be in pursuit of a larger goal: Reputation management. Meaning, every message put into the marketplace, every piece of media coverage secured, and every interview conducted should all contribute to enhancing a company’s overall reputation in the eyes of their key audiences.
Many of the companies that we work with come to us with one of two reputation management goals. The first is around building their reputation from scratch in a market or industry where they have virtually no awareness. While this is especially common among early stage startups that haven’t yet broken into the market, it can also be true for established companies that have never had a PR agency to build their reputation.
Reputation management can additionally help companies shift an existing perception of their brand among a particular audience or within a particular market. As companies evolve and expand their offerings, for example, they need to ensure that their reputation evolves alongside them. These shifts can be from B2C to B2B markets, or from one specific industry to another, such as ecommerce to fintech.
Media relations is the difference between a company that has news, and a company that stays in the news. Companies can put out press releases every week, for instance, but those releases won’t capture journalists’ interests without a thoughtful media relations strategy behind them.
PR agencies are the liaison between their clients and the media. They ensure that every news item or story a company puts out happens at the right time, with the right messaging, and goes to the right journalists. PR agencies should be in tune with what is happening in the larger market—and world—in order to transform their clients’ news (that isn’t always relevant outside of companies’ four walls) into stories with significance to a much larger audience.
Being on the pulse of the media cycle also means that PR agencies can advise on when not to make an announcement in order to avoid sounding tone deaf or out of touch with the market.
An additional benefit of hiring a PR agency is having access to their network of journalists. Especially when working with an agency that specializes in a particular sector, such as technology, clients will be brought into the circle of journalists and publications that agency works with on a regular basis, and has already built relationships with.
Building a Brand
Building a brand is about more than initial brand awareness. Yes, a PR agency can help companies go from zero visibility to leading entire markets. But this falls into PR agencies’ overarching responsibility to manage companies’ overarching voices and identities, and the way that they are perceived by the public.
This involves careful curation of all of the language and messaging surrounding a brand, and then ensuring that every story written about the company points back to those messages. It’s one thing for a PR agency to secure hundreds of mentions of a company, but it’s far more powerful if those mentions influence the behaviors that companies need to build their brand.
If media relations is the road to getting companies’ news into the market, content is the vehicle to get it there.
PR content, such as press releases, thought leadership articles and media pitches, is different from the content that companies use internally, or even on their external channels. Many companies are accustomed to talking about themselves and their products in such a way that only makes sense within their organization, but means very little to the rest of the world. PR agencies need to speak journalists’ language in order to create content that they will be interested in sharing with their readers. This is difficult when content is full of industry jargon, buzzwords and other language that distracts from the real story.
In addition to drafting a regular stream of PR content around their client’s upcoming announcements, PR agencies should also be well-versed in creating newsworthy content even when their clients don’t have news. One way to do this is by reacting to the topics that journalists are covering, or plan to cover in the near future, through regular communication and editorial calendar planning. Then, PR pros can build their clients’ content around the topics and ideas that are already top of mind in the media.
Because crises are inevitable in the corporate world, PR agencies should be able to act on their feet when issues arise—even with little warning. Agencies’ PR crisis toolbox should include everything from drafting reactive statements to monitoring for media coverage of the crisis, and prepping company spokespeople to speak on the topic.
While PR agencies are often thought of as an immediate need in the direct aftermath of a crisis, they can be equally beneficial in getting companies back on track in the months (and years) to follow. Once the crisis has been managed, for example, PR agencies can get to work on putting positive storylines back into the market and rebuilding companies’ reputations among their key audiences.
Benefits of a PR Firm with Industry Specific Expertise
Having a PR agency that understands the media industry is helpful. But having a PR agency that has an intimate understanding of the topics that are important to your company and the way you want to be seen in your industry comes down to your PR agency’s industry-specific expertise.
Just like companies would likely prefer to hire a new employee that is enthusiastic about their brand over one that isn’t, they should look for industry experience. For example our agency has experience in Retail Technology, Fintech, Martech/Adtech, Climate Tech amongst other technology verticals.
Being well-versed in the ins and outs of their clients’ industries is what enables PR agencies to act as a seamless extension of their brand. In addition to simply having their finger on the pulse of the media publications and journalists in that industry, PR agencies need to have a deep understanding of current events and trends—as well as be able to predict forthcoming trends to ensure that your company is on the front lines.
In-House PR Team vs. PR Agency Services
When companies are looking at in-house versus an agency there is a cost factor. In order to build a fully functional PR team, there needs to be a PR strategist and also account executives to pitch the media. In our experience, companies who try to build out this function have to invest disproportionately more than hiring a PR agency, and often have to hire an outside agency as well.
PR agencies also specialize entirely in PR, and have more media resources and relationships available to them as agencies are part of a larger ecosystem. Working on multiple clients year after year also gives PR agencies a better grasp of what the media is interested in.
Another factor when deciding to build an in-house PR team or outsource to an agency is the notion that in-house team members have more insight into a company and its goals. But the way we see it, there shouldn’t be any noticeable differences between the knowledge that an in-house team has of your brand and that of your PR agency—if the agency is doing its job well.
How to Find the Right PR Agency for Your Company
Ready to make a PR agency a part of your company’s growth plan? Here are a few suggestions for finding the right partner.
Set Your Objectives
Maybe your company has never had a dedicated PR agency before, and you’re looking to build out a department that can put processes, strategies and tools in place to keep your media relations efforts running smoothly. Or perhaps you’ve worked with a PR agency before but are finding that their results aren’t moving the market behaviors you need for your company to grow. It’s also not uncommon among global companies to have a local PR agency within each of the markets they operate in to be their on-the-ground expert and liaison with the local media. Whatever your objectives are, look for a PR agency partner that understands them and knows what needs to be done to achieve them.
Have a Budget in Mind
While many PR agencies have a general price range for the services they offer, it’s important to communicate what’s most important to you so that they can ensure their proposal reflects those needs. Come to your agency with these ideas and your corresponding budget in mind so that they can make the best use of your time by preparing a plan that will offer the most benefit to everyone involved.
Create a List of Questions
The process of finding the right PR agency should be collaborative—and even enjoyable. Don’t be afraid to dig deep and bring out the unique personality of a PR agency. You’ll be working with this company frequently, and should make sure that they’re someone you will enjoy partnering with for years to come.
Examples of Questions You Can Ask:
- What experience do you have in [your industry]?
- What should I expect from you in the first 90 days? Six months? Year?
- What will my PR team look like?
- What will our day-to-day interactions look like?
- Do you have any previous or existing clients that I can speak with about their experience working with you?
- Do you have any case studies or examples of your work?
Know Your Expectations
In order to get the results you need from your PR agency, it’s important to know your expectations for them—and let them know when they’re not delivering. For example, are you expecting for PR to bring in a certain number of leads? Build awareness for a particular executive? Bring more traffic to your website? PR can accomplish all of these things, but PR agencies need to know what’s important to your company in order to create a plan that will meet your expectations and goals.
Thinking about hiring a PR agency, but not sure what to expect? Look for these six benefits:
- Strategic Planning
- Reputation Management
- Media Relations
- Building a Brand
- Content Creation
- Crisis Management