First, it's easy to Google thePR firms in your area or the top ones in your space. You can consult references such as O'Dwyer's, PR WEEK and Local Business Journal's "Book of Lists" thatrank PR firms according to fee revenue,specialty areas or other criteria.
Selecting the largest firm is not always the best idea as you don't want to be the small fish in proverbial big pond and probably the bigger the pond, the higher the fee. Also,unless you're abig fish with a big budget, the larger firms may actually assign their junior personnel to work on your account. So you might consider first and foremost who will work on your account.
Here are questions you should ask.
1.Are we meeting the publicists who'll actually be working on our account on a day-to-day basis or just the owners and managers of the firm? And what are their qualifications?
Be careful here. Many firms send in their senior people to make new business presentations, yet seldom will they be the ones who'll actually work on the account. Inquire ifyou're looking at the team of publicists who'll handle your account, as well as their supervisors and the publicist assigned to be your point person for daily communications. Are the publicists who'll work on your accountall professionals with distinguished journalistic backgrounds and many years of experience.
2. What major awards has your firm received for excellence? For example, have you ever won the highest award given by the Public Relations Society of America-an Anvil Award?
While there are plenty of local awards given out to local business, what national recognition has a firm received? If a PR firm has not won some kind of recognition or ranking in PR trades such as PR Week, O'Dwyers, PR News or has received some award from The Public Relations Society of America or some other industry group, then you're right to be little skeptical.
3.How many times has your PR firm been written up in the major PR trades? And your clients featured in major media?
Articles calling campaigns conducted by the PR firm you're interviewing"exemplary" and "outstanding" that have appeared in trades like PR WEEK, O'Dwyer's, PR Tactics, etc are a sign you're dealing with a first rate firm. Many PR firms have been featured in general business and consumer publications including local Business Journals, and national publications likeThe Washington Post. Have speeches written by the firm been reprinted in The New York Times or other publications. Have clients of thethe firm been profiled orfeatured in significant media such as Forbes, NY Times orTime Magazine. How many of their clients have they booked on Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, The TODAY SHOW, Regis and Kelly, Fox and Friends, O'Reilly, CNN?
4.Who are your clients and how long have they been with you?
One of the signs of a productive PR firm is the type of clients it serves. Are they leading firms in their sectors? Are they growing? Have they praised the PR firm for outstanding performance? Ask to see references, client testimonials, success stories.
5.Are the firms you're evaluating bi-lingual?
It sure would make more sense if they were. Media opportunities expand dramatically when a PR firm has a staff that speaks several languages, particularly Spanish in a market such as South Florida. Florida's Hispanic population is large and growing, both in size and affluence. Many client firms comprise employees who speak Spanish. This opens huge media doors at programs like Telemundo, on which TransMedia books clients regularly.
6.What specialty areas does your firm have that will benefit us?
Some firms are uniquely qualified to represent your type of business, but don't get to hung up on this as a strong, creative and resourceful firm can lean about your business and your industry and might even bring fresh thinking and insights to the mission. Also, you don't won't a firm that represents competitors, which presents an inherent conflict of interest. You want to be the only business of its type on the firm's client roster. If the firm represents other businesses in the same space,better think twice as it's near impossible for a PR firm to represent competitors, particularly if they're serving the same market. The best firms will not accept any firm as client if it competes with an existing client. Many firms have eclectic backgrounds by having represented clients involved in health care, technology, financial services, retail, sports, entertainment, transportation, art, food, fitnessand fashion. Those firms can bring a broader perspective as often there is overlap and cross promotional opportunities.
7. Do you do Media Training and Crisis Management?
Try to find afirm that has provenskills and capability of providing their clients with high-quality media training and has experience with crisis management as things often can go wrong and you'll be better off with a firm that can get you through a storm. When the firm books you on TV, you want to be prepared so you don't waste the opportunity to deliver key message points in a short amount of precious time. Often this takes practice, as we're not accustomed to getting our story across in a matter of a few minutes, which is sometimes all the time you'll have.
8. How effective are you with social media?
Today, all PR firms have to be proficient at FaceBook, Twitter and other social media, including the ability to skillfully navigate and harness the blogosphere to complement traditional media outreach. If you're unfamiliar with social media, bring someone along with you to probe their socal media sophistication.
Tom Madden is the founder and CEO of TransMedia Group, one of the world's leading independent PR firms serving clients worldwide since 1981. He has held top executive positions at ABC and NBC,where he was Vice President, Assistant to the President, then Fred Silverman. For his exploits in broadcasting and PR, he has been profiled in Time Magazine, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal. Speeches he wrote have been reprinted in The New York Times and Vital Speeches of the Day. Among awards he has received are a "Bronze Anvil" from The Public Relations Society of America. He is the author of SPIN MAN and King of the Condo. email: TMadden@transmediagroup.com 561-750-9800 Ext: 211 Visit Thomas's website