Ray Kroc understood it. So, too, did Dave Thomas and Howard Schultz. It doesn’t matter how revolutionary or life-changing a product you have, your business will not get far if it is not projecting the right image. There is no right or wrong when it comes to branding, but there is most definitely a right and a wrong for you and your company. Not every image will work for every company, and projecting the wrong one could be losing you sales without even knowing it. That is where choosing a good public relations agency comes into play. Now, you may think that you have got all your bases covered with a well defined advertising and marketing strategy already in place. But, PR is something quite different, and unless you understand that difference, you might be unknowingly falling behind the pack. PR is key to extending the messages in your marketing campaign. The two go hand in hand, but a solid PR plan can go a long way to building up both the impact and the credibility of your advertising. The first thing you need to do to create a competitive company is determine what role exactly PR can play in your overall marketing strategy. What can you do to complement and extend the image you’re trying to send out? Do you want to deliver good news about your company to investors? Do you want to build up momentum for a new product launch or a new marketing campaign? Do you want a long-term, strategic PR strategy, or a one-time project? And, how much are you willing to spend? Once you’ve established your goals, you can set about choosing the right public relations agency to help you meet those goals. Look through industry directories to get a list of names you could use. Create a list of no more than ten firms that you will look into, and make sure that they specialize in your market. Ask your colleagues to see who has and hasn’t worked well for them. Talk with agency staff to get an idea of how they work. Ask for a presentation, past assignments, or references from the company, and see who else is on that firm’s client list. Finally, if you find one or two firms that interest you, and you’re serious about hiring one, ask both to draft a proposal as to how they would meet your needs. If you know what you are looking to get from the company, it will be much easier for them to meet your expectations. Take your time to find the best fit for you, and remember that cheaper firms might also be less experienced, meaning you could pay more in the long run. Be clear about your timeline and your budget. A good public relations agency is one that never runs out of fresh and innovative ideas to promote your company. At the often steep price you will be paying, make sure you are clear about what you want, and be sure about who you’re getting into business with.