The search for a PR company can be arduous, but when done well, the payoff is a long and fruitful relationship. Here are some tips:
More than a Rolodex for hire. It's a bonus when your PR firm has great media contacts, but connections alone don't guarantee results. In the end, it all comes down to the story.
Instead of an impressive Rolodex, look for a company that's adept at creating compelling stories that get attention and provoke a conversation. This means crafting clear, high-fidelity messages that help build your brand.
At the same time, the firm should strive to make each story unique and tailored to a particular target. It's a mistake to try to replicate the same approach over and over.
Assess the latest, not just the greatest. The PR and the media landscape are evolving at an incredible place. You want to hire people who have their fingers on the pulse of what works now. A firm that had expertise in an industry 18 months ago, but hasn't done any recent work in the area, might as well be starting anew.
Pay special attention to work produced in the past three months. Are they nimble and innovative? Are they responding to the evolving needs of their clients and today's market?
Gray hair and young guns. Experience is valuable, but it's not the single quality you should value above all others.
You definitely want at least one person on your account that knows the subject matter cold. But having one to two others who possess fresh perspectives, enthusiasm, and a willingness to try a new approach is just as essential. Someone who has just enough context to ask the right questions, but not enough experience to know the answers is often the difference between an adequately-performing firm, and one that blows you away with results.
What's as important is how well that rockstar or senior lead imparts their wisdom and know-how on his or her direct reports. Does the firm have a teaching culture? Do they hire exceptionally smart employees who are challenged and encouraged to take risks? Or do they hire mere practitioners who simply fill a role?
Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Don't just talk shop— take extra care to get to know the people behind the business persona.This could mean taking a prospective account lead out to lunch, chatting about trends, sharing personal stories, or finding common points of interest. The goal is to get prospects to let their guard down. After all, you're going to be in the trenches with these people for quite some time, working side by side.
Venture capitalists learned this lesson long ago: the team matters. You want to work with people who have a good head on their shoulders, collaborate well, are generous, don't play politics, and aren't afraid to stand up for what they believe in.
Yan-David Erlich is founder of ChoiceVendor.com, a peer-review site for b-to-b companies.