With several thousand PR consultancies operating in the UK, choosing one that’s right for you can be difficult.
Jeremy Clarke has worked on both sides of the client/consultancy fence, and now as managing director of LawsonClarke PR – one of the longest established PR businesses in the West – shares a few thoughts to help you find the best consultancy for your requirements.
While it’s not vital that you become best mates with members of your new PR account team, you will be working closely with them, so it is important that you like the people and enjoy their company. Don’t underestimate the power of chemistry to get things done.
Visit your prospective consultancy’s offices and get a feel for who they are and how they operate. Check out the culture – will it mesh with your business and the way you like to work?
Look to find a consultancy you can work with in the long term, even if you only start with an initial project. You will get the most out of them as their knowledge of your business, its products or services, market sector and media develops.
To get the best work out of your PR consultants – as with any member of your own team – try to make them feel valued and motivated.
Regard them as a partner, not just a supplier. Trust – both ways – is just as important as results, so take them into your confidence.
3. Cost and value
The financial return versus the cost can be difficult to assess, but the value a good consultancy can deliver can be priceless. Learn to trust their judgement, even when it comes to the budget. For example, they will know that although good press photography might cost more than a quick snap taken by someone in the office, it could make all the difference in terms of achieving quality coverage. Not only will a bad photograph be less likely to be used, sending out poor quality materials will undermine your reputation and a journalist’s perception of your brand.
Decide on a sensible budget that works for both parties, and remember the adage: ‘pay peanuts and you’ll get monkeys’.
4. Creativity and ideas
Creative people thrive on encouragement – so while new ideas need to be relevant and appropriate, do keep an open mind to their suggestions. Tap into your consultants’ creativity – they can be an invaluable resource in this area so make time to develop new and different ideas, and don’t stay stuck in the same old rut.
Brainstorm! It’s the perfect way to kick-start new ideas, and by getting away from your usual surroundings, the change of scene will help stimulate right brain thinking!
5. Strategy and implementation
Decide how much thinking you want your new consultancy to do.
By being objective, they should be in a unique position to help you form a strategy, and by contributing to the success of your business on a number of levels, will be far more engaged and committed.
Make it clear how much support you are looking for. It is worth remembering that if you just use your consultancy to act on a tactical level you’ll not be maximising their full potential, and will miss out on getting real added value.
Geography isn’t critical.
It’s the consultancy’s responsibility to be on time for meetings, but in this day and age of instant communication, it is no longer vital that they’re based in your immediate locality.
With increasing numbers of journalists working freelance or from home it’s not necessary to have a consultancy based in central London, either – plus selecting a regionally based company will save you money.
7. Decide what you’re looking for
It has been said that some clients spend more time choosing their next car or mobile phone than they do on selecting a consultancy, but it is wise to think carefully about what you want them to achieve. Draw up a list of PR objectives and requirements and first do your research.
Also look at their client list, the sectors they work in, and ask about professional recognition.
Be SMART – make sure your objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.
8. Managing the pitch
Beware the slick pitch!
It might be a great PowerPoint presentation with all the whistles and bells, but great sales patter needs to be balanced by knowing who’s going to work on the account and how they are going to deliver. Make sure you’re not just looking at the new business ‘getter’, and ensure the proposed account team is present. If in doubt, go and see them at their offices; find out who really will be doing the work.
Don’t ask too many consultancies to pitch. From a long list of, say, six choose no more than three. Any more than that and people will start declining.
Alternatively, visit a few consultancies for a ‘chemistry meeting’ and ask one or more to do some project work. Find the one that works best and move forward with them.
9. Beware of the procurement process
Most corporates now follow some form of purchasing process and involve procurement or buying specialists.
Remember that you are sourcing soft skills and people, not widgets or materials in bulk, and some of the ‘one size fits all’ purchasing processes simply don’t work. Some consultancies have had such bad experiences that they now decline to work with companies that make too stringent demands.
PR is a people business, and providing the consultancy meets your objectives, trust your intuition.
10. Length of contract
Many large companies insist on a re-pitch every 2 – 3 years. This can have advantages in terms of getting new ideas, reviewing “who’s out there”, or simply re-focusing your incumbent consultancy. But a committed agency with several years’ knowledge of your business, sector and media can be doing a great job, and could be easily re-focused – if that’s what’s required – in a more efficient way.
Remember, your existing consultancy already has well-established press relationships – something it might take your new agency time to form, so don’t change just for change’s sake.
‘Quick check’ before you approach a consultancy
– why are you looking for a PR consultancy?
– what do you want them to achieve?
– how much involvement are you looking for?
– how long do you want to work with them – a project or programme?
– what size consultancy would suit your needs?
– how much can you afford?
– how well do they promote themselves & communicate what they do?
Questions to ask your prospective consultancy
– what clients do they currently work with?
– how well do they know your target media?
– do they understand social media/online PR?
– can they give examples of best practice/creativity/teamwork/results?
– how long have they been established?
– what is their employee turnover like?
– how long have they worked with their longest standing client?
– what do they know about your business, market sector etc?
– who, and how many people will work on the account?
For further information, contact Jeremy Clarke: firstname.lastname@example.org
© LawsonClarke Ltd