What You Should Know About Hiring a PR Firm


We all know that good PR is essential to the growth and viability of any business or any individual. We invite you to explore the following question: What should you consider before hiring a PR Firm?

Some business people think good PR is simply sending out press releases to a press list, resulting in you or your company becoming instantly famous. Others know PR is very complicated, requiring intense focus, persistence, specialized expertise, time, money and a strategy is tantamount to an all-out military offensive.

There are some hidden rules about working with PR people that we think you should know. Most PR professionals will not tell you the rules because they are afraid that, if they do, they will not get you to be a client. We disagree, because if you don’t abide by the rules, we can’t do our best work. And if we can’t do our best work, then we don’t want to work with you.

 Whether you are retaining a full-service agency or a solo consultant, the same rules apply. We think you will enjoy our suggestions. In some cases they might shock you, but we think it is important to tell you the truth so you can manage your resources wisely.

1. Know the Real Cost of a PR Retainer
Know how much work you are getting in terms of actual hours spent on your account. Most business people like to negotiate a PR retainer down to the lowest possible amount, and when they do get the lowest price, they think they have scored. Think again! You will always get what you pay for. The lower your retainer, the fewer hours will be spent servicing your PR program. Most PR firms will charge an hourly rate for an entire team — the average range is somewhere between $125 and $200 per hour. This hourly rate is the average of the combined rates of everyone who will work on your account, from junior-level account executives to senior strategists.

2. Demand Close Collaboration
A PR firm can only be successful when there is close cooperation with the client. Give the PR person whatever she needs and get it to her quickly. If she needs to interview you, your clients, or your colleagues, give her the time and attention to get the job done. Get her any needed written collateral material or recaps of past work. The longer you wait, the more inefficient you have made your PR firm. Don’t delegate unnecessary administrative tasks to your PR firm — it’s a time drain and will steal away time spent on the more critical elements of the program. Remember, PR firms are operating on billable hours, the same as any law firm.

3. Know the Power of a Genuine Story
Some clients think that if they hiccup softly, it’s news. Understand that your version of what is newsworthy may not really be real news at all. Understand the power of a real story and you can begin to weed out the non-stories and so-so stories. Your PR firm knows how to come up with a good story, and when they do, they will run with it. Rely on your PR firm’s judgment. They know the landscape and what stories are viable in the current state of the media.

4. Tell Them the Truth
PR professionals have the talent, skills and experience to craft great stories. PR professionals are paid well for this expertise. It is a major faux pas to lie to them. Tell the truth. You need to give your PR firm all of the correct information so they can be effective on your behalf. Withholding vital information is the equivalent to going to a doctor to get a diagnosis when you have withheld disclosing half of the symptoms. If you don’t trust your PR firm to keep confidentiality, then there is a simple solution. Have the firm sign a nondisclosure agreement. But tell the truth. If all the cards are not out on the table, no one can plan and execute an effective PR campaign.

5. Pay Your PR Person on Time
Most PR deals are monthly retainer deals. When you pay slowly or are habitually late with your payments, PR people are reluctant to work on your account. As long as you are under contract, your PR firm will hit all your deadlines, just like a law firm, but if you pay slowly, they will pull back on the workload. The reason for the work slow-down? PR people are paid for their service — the time they actually spend servicing your account. Slow, late or non-payment is theft of professional service that cannot be recovered.

6. Provide Incentives, but Don’t Replace Cash
Don’t ask your PR professional to render professional service without payment. In lieu of cash, PR professionals are routinely offered trade and barter agreements or stock options. Some of the gifts offered include works of art, cosmetic services, spa services, gourmet treats, event tickets, or free restaurant and bar tabs, which are fine as incentives, but not considered payment-in-full for professional services. Cash is the best incentive. Pay the person what she is worth. Would you skimp on the price of hiring a good surgeon? More importantly, stick to the financial terms of the contract that you have negotiated with your PR person.

7. Understand PR Scope of Service
The terms of the proposal should specify exactly what you are paying for in the monthly retainer. The lower your retainer, then the longer it will take to get you results. Do not — I repeat DO NOT — ask for deliverables that are not in the scope of service without negotiating a new contract or an addendum to an existing contract, and without understanding that you will be charged for extra time (billable hours). This is the rule, but there is a major exception. See PR loyalty.

8. Respect Loyalty
PR Professionals pride longevity in their client relationships and will spend extra hours working for clients who have demonstrated long-term loyalty and have consistently  paid promptly. Over the course of years of service, retainer fees will not be increased and the long-term client can expect great service for much lower than the current market rate.

9. Don’t Poach Intellectual Property
Don’t ask your PR firm for their proprietary lists of influencers, investors, or media. Your PR person will always give you direct access to specific individuals when it is the right thing to do for both the client and the PR Professional’s rolodex of resources. But don’t ask for a well-documented core dump. It‘s a deal breaker.

In summary, while PR people are articulate, affable, socially charming and persuasive, always remember the PR person is not your friend. Now genuine friendships do emerge from business relationships, but they are the exception, not the rule.

 A PR person/client relationship is only productive so long as the PR person continues to offer you benefits and you continue to pay your bills on time. Do not feign charisma, charm or likeability. Getting the PR person to like you is not essential to ensure success of a campaign.

Success is contingent on a whole array of external factors that are out of the PR firm’s control. Yet as long as you pay on time, your PR firm will perform to peak capacity and deliver results.

How to Manage Your PR Firm on a Monthly Basis

1. Stay in close communication with your PR person by phone and email.
2. At the beginning of each month, ask for a schedule of deliverables. The schedule is what the firm will do to implement a successful program for that month.
3. Review the schedule and make any changes that are needed so it is clear what the scope of PR duties will be for the month.
4. Make certain that the monthly deliverables are consistent with the long-term goal of the PR program and the PR contract.
5. Make adjustments to the long-term goal of the PR program that reflect what is going in your industry or in the current political or economic landscape.
6. At the close of each month, review the deliverables and get a complete update on what has been accomplished to date and what will roll over until the next month.
7. No one knows your business as well as you do. Make certain your PR person is well-informed.
8. No one knows PR as well as your PR professional. Make certain your PR firm has made you well-informed so you can make good business decisions.

For questions or comments, please reply to patricia@xanthuscom.com

Published by Xanthus Communications LLC and PR for People®


Patricia Vaccarino

Patricia Vaccarino is an accomplished writer who has written award-winning film scripts, press materials, articles, essays, speeches, web content, marketing collateral, and eight books.

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