Depending on your industry and future vision, you may have toyed with the idea of hiring a public relations (PR) agency. Whether CMO, CEO or business owner, most executives understand the value of a polished public persona and strategic communications. But, that doesn’t mean every company is well-suited to work with an agency… at least not yet.
There’s a lot of ground between non-existent PR and content (which usually falls under the PR umbrella nowadays) and a full-fledged agency engagement. No matter where you fall on the spectrum currently, it’s best to have full clarity before embarking on a relationship with a third-party agency. Here are five ways to know whether you’re ready for that or not.
- You know your goals.
First, why are you interested in hiring an agency? Are you looking to become a thought leader, or are you wanting to turn around a negative company reputation? Do you want to work with experts simply because you feel like all your competitors do, so you should too?
If you have clear goals around improving awareness, strengthening your individual and/or organizational public image, establishing credibility in your field and so forth – you can move on to the next step.
If your desire to work with an agency are rooted in wanting to be like everyone else or vague wishes to “grow,” hit the pause button. You won’t have success if you don’t have defined, specific goals and understand the relationship between PR tactics and achieving them.
- Your company is mature enough.
If you’ve just launched your company and you are bootstrapping, you’re not ready to work with an agency. You may still want to work with an independent contractor to help you put out a “new company” press release or to advise you on ad hoc initiatives, but you don’t have the infrastructure yet for a mature relationship. Don’t worry, though. You’ll get there.
Your company should be funded to some extent (either with venture capital or, if bootstrapped, should be profitable). You should have viable products or services, and at least a few (if not many) paying customers. Before these milestones are hit, hiring an agency will over-burden you. It will also be premature, and your PR team will be left grasping at straws trying to initiate tactics since you don’t have much to offer them yet. So, get to a level of maturity first.
- The mathematics make sense.
Many times, business owners try to handle everything themselves. Writing a press release sounds simple enough, and putting together a blog has to be doable, right? Well, not so fast. Sure, you could try to do PR tactics on your own, but there’s a lot that goes into intentional communications behind the scenes. You won’t be getting the most from your efforts, and odds are good you’ll either burn out in the process from your excessive workload – or just stop trying because there aren’t enough hours in the day.
If you’re still not mature enough for an agency relationship, we encourage you to find independent contractors who are experienced and can offer one-off projects at reasonable prices. This type of help can get you through the gap between launching your company and being ready for a strategic agency. Once you’re mature enough (see previous step), it becomes a math equation.
Working with an agency will cost more than working with an independent contractor, but you’ll likely get an entire team of seasoned experts functioning as your own PR department. The strategy and cohesiveness of working with such an agency will yield far greater results than any single person could. So, consider how much budget you have to give and what you have to get in return. Can you swing it, financially? If so, it’s time.
- You’re willing and able to invest time.
Of course, budget isn’t the only form of investment you need for a PR engagement. You need to be willing to give your agency your time. As the relationship grows, your PR team should be able to require less of your time since they’ll know your goals, your voice and your messaging more intimately. But at the outset, they’ll need you.
PR agencies are only as effective as a company enables them to be. Let’s say they’re pitching a story for you, and have a journalist on the line, waiting for some information. If you take too long to respond, you might kill any chance of coverage. Agencies need one or two key points of contact within your organization who can answer questions, give approvals and route issues to the appropriate person as needed. If you’re not prepared to offer this time, you should wait to work with an agency.
- You’ll defer to expertise (or communicate honestly when you don’t).
This last one can be a toughie. Executives and business owners are smart. They got to their current position by being savvy and decisive. So, oftentimes, this is their default. Ask yourself honestly if you’re ready to defer to an expert with your PR strategy and tactics. Will you be open to your team’s advice, and consider it with an open mind? Or do you think you already have all the answers?
Most executives are all too happy to defer to accountants for money guidance, and their attorneys for legal guidance, but PR and marketing can be a little different. Depending on their level of involvement with these departments in the past, they may feel like they’re equipped to run the show. If you feel this way, you’re probably better off with an in-house PR team that you manage. If you’re open to advice and feedback, then a third-party agency can take you to great heights.
Naturally, you won’t always agree with your agency – and that’s ok. When you don’t, you should feel comfortable explaining your position and making the final call. It is your company, after all. But an agency should be treated as the expert in the field, while you remain the expert in your business. This helps the relationship work functionally and optimally, and keeps everyone in their core areas of expertise.
So, where does your business land on the PR readiness spectrum? If you’re ready to work with an agency, we’d love to speak with you. Contact us any time!