Public Relations

Questions to Ask – and Not to Ask – When Interviewing a PR Agency

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Choosing a PR agency is a big decision for any company – and one  that should not be taken lightly.  It can be challenging to determine what firm is the best fit for your business especially with so many options out there. Because of this wide variety it’s important to know what to look for and what questions may help you narrow down your search.

If you are already thinking of hiring an agency, you should know the purpose you are hiring them for. Make sure your objective is determined, as well as what you would hope to see as a result of your work together. 

The best way to actually determine how an agency works and if they are capable of working with you, is to give as little direction as possible. Any agency worth their salt will know what a press release is and how to put it out or know what the term newsjacking means. The only prompt you should have to provide is what your goals are and the only question should be how they will help you reach them.

But, if you are looking to go more in depth, below are questions that would be beneficial to ask, as well as questions that might hinder the process.

Experience and Expertise

Questions to ask:

Can you provide examples of successful campaigns in our industry?

One of the best ways to get a sense of an organization’s ability is to see their past work and success for other clients. Seeing tangible results for companies, especially in your industry, shows they know how to drive results and how to navigate the space your company is in.

What industries or niches have you worked with in the past?

It’s beneficial if a PR agency has worked in your niche in the past but it’s also important to know if the majority of their clients are B2B or B2C. Asking what industries the PR agency serves will quickly determine if it is a B2B, B2C or Lifestyle firm. Generally, a good B2B PR agency will be able to work with any B2B company regardless of the industry. Whereas a lifestyle agency would struggle to do the same work. The reverse is also true. 

Questions not to ask:

What is your team’s experience and expertise in PR?

This is another question that should be answered without asking. When the team introduces themselves they will most likely give a short introduction of themselves that includes, how long they’ve been with the agency, types of clients they work with at the agency, as well as any relevant clients they may have worked with in past jobs. If they don’t offer this information up proactively it can be beneficial to ask, however, it’s ground that should be covered early on, and also isn’t make or break in terms of hiring.

What is your opinion on the PR industry and where do you see the future of the PR industry going?

The purpose of an interview with a PR agency is to determine how they will do PR for your company and achieve your goals. Asking about the future of their industry will only distract from more important questions. This question regularly appears in RFP’s and serves no real purpose. 

What is your outlook for my company’s industry? 

A PR agency will align with your vision for your industry and key messages so their personal opinions on where various industries are is not that important. With the exception of political campaigns. 

Strategy and Approach

Questions to ask:

How do you develop PR strategies for clients?

Arguably the most important skill a PR agency needs to have is the ability to develop a dedicated strategy unique to a companies marketing and business goals. Asking the agency you are considering how they develop strategy is critical to understanding if they are a fit for you. You want their answer to ensure that they know how to craft a strategy, instead of just implementing randomised efforts or relying on a pool of friendly contacts. 

How do you determine target audiences and messaging for campaigns?

Similar to the above, asking this question can reveal the level of thinking as well as the process an agency puts behind each initiative and campaign they work on. Since target audiences and messaging differs with each company, it’s important to get a read on how the agency you’re speaking to approaches building these out.

Can you explain your approach to crisis management and reputation protection?

You never know when a crisis may arise and as much as we would like to believe there will never be any negativity around our company, that can’t always be reality. Especially if you’re in an industry that is prone to security breaches, customer complaints, or any other regulatory issues, it’s good to see if the PR agency you are hiring has the skill set to support you if any issues surface.

Media and Relationships

Questions to ask:

How do you secure media placements and coverage for clients?

The way a PR agency secures media placements and coverage should be based around the strategy you’ve already discussed in previous questions. However, if this hasn’t yet been covered it’s good to ask this question to get an idea of how the company you’re speaking with plans to get your company’s message out there to the public. Ideally, the answer to this question will be based around developing narratives and translating those narratives into enticing stories that will appeal to any reporter, not just the reporters that the agency is friendly with. This enables a PR agency to scale their outreach and get companies’ news covered in a meaningful way. 

Questions not to ask:

What media contacts and relationships do you have that can benefit our brand? Can you provide examples of media outlets you’ve worked with in the past?

While relationships are a great tool to help PR professionals place a story, it should not be the top of mind factor when hiring an agency. For both media contacts and media outlets, previous work together is nice to have but even with relationships, without a compelling story angle it’s very unlikely that a story will get placed. 

It’s more important to know how an agency strategically approaches getting coverage rather than how many reporters they know personally. Any agency whose main talking point is reporter relationships when asked about securing coverage, most likely won’t actually know how to efficiently get your message out into the market.

Measurement and Analytics

Questions to ask

How do you measure the success of PR campaigns?

At the end of the day all companies want to be able to say that they were successful. But what success means or looks like can differ depending on who you ask. It’s good to ask the PR agency you are considering how they measure the success of their work for a couple reasons. 

One, is to show that they have processes in place for reporting back on results of initiatives, whether that be in real time, quarterly reports, annual reports, or all of the above. 

The second, is getting an expert’s opinion on what success actually looks like in the PR industry – a well-educated agency will be able to tell you success looks different from campaign to campaign and will show how they track that. 

Can you share examples of how you’ve improved a client’s brand visibility or reputation?

It’s always beneficial to go further than asking an agency to tell you how they CAN provide results and instead ask them to show you how they HAVE provided results in the past. By posing this question, you will see tangible examples from other companies they’ve worked with and visualise how the same may be achieved for you.

How do you measure KPIs?

Knowing how a firm will report their progress and results is an important question to ask because it gives you insight on what metrics they believe are important to their clients. For example with B2B PR the KPI’s are going to be completely different compared to a lifestyle or B2C account.

Budget and Pricing

Questions to ask

What is your pricing structure and fee arrangement?

Public Relations is a service and is not something that can be automated. Firms tend to have a very similar pricing structure. But it’s helpful on an initial call to ask about budget because you don’t want to go through the whole proposal process to figure out that the firm is either too expensive or falls at a range where they would not be able to execute. 

Teams and Point of Contact

Questions to ask

What is the size and expertise of your team?

Determining how many people will be working on your account as well as those individuals’ backgrounds and the industries they tend to work in is critical to picking an agency. You want to make sure that the team you will be working with has an understanding of your field and are the best people for the job.

Who will be our main point of contact at the agency?

It’s important to know who your go-to person on the account will be day to day. This is the person who you will be in constant communication with and who will be handling as well as delegating the majority of tasks, campaigns, interviews, and more. The main point of contact should have a background that complements the industry your company is in and be someone that you can see yourself working with.

Client References and Case Studies’

Questions to ask

Do you have case studies that showcase your work and results in our field?

Case studies that show the total span of work to date with a client as well as case studies of individual campaigns are the best way to get a sense of what the agency you are speaking with can accomplish. It shows not only the amount of results they achieve but also what kind of thinkers they are, and if what they claimed in terms of strategy development proves to be true – and lucrative – in practice. 

Can you provide references from past or current clients?

References from past and current clients are a great way to determine satisfaction beyond the numbers shown in a results section of a case study. Direct quotes from happy clients prove that an agency isn’t all talk and can give the final vote of confidence you need to hire them.

Our Approach at Channel V Media

Our preferred approach at Channel V Media is to first do an initial introductory call with a prospect. During this meeting we like to hear from them how they would describe their company in their own words, as well as the goals they are looking to achieve.  

From there we will create a proposal based on what we’ve been told, our own research, and our own understanding of their business and marketing goals. We’ve found that this type of approach results in prospects having a clearer and ore holistic understanding of how we would approach their PR. We also complete RFP’s on a regular basis and are happy to work that way as well.

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