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Choosing a PR Firm

You want experts - that means relevant experience

StrategicLee has been extremely fortunate over the last 14 years. We have enjoyed a steady flow of new business from referrals. But for companies new to PR, how do you choose the right firm to trust with your brand? Here are a few things to think about.

It's all about the experience

When looking for a PR firm, boutique or consultant, it is really about their experience. Of course you want them to do media outreach, but are they an expert in consumer or enterprise outreach? Do they have experience with other companies in your space? Maybe they have worked for the security conference that is important to your business. Maybe they worked for a customer segment or vertical that is key for your brand. Or they simply know the language and region you are trying to reach. Look for PR practitioners who have an expertise in the market you are trying to break into.

It's not about location

I recently moved to a farm in S. Oregon after 20 years in San Francisco. I am an hour plane ride away from the Bay Area. But you shouldn't actually care about that. A strong media relations person has experience pitching media around the nation if not the world. And if you have a good story, timing and product, they can pitch it from any location. Besides, most PR happens via email these days. That is not to say you don't need to see your PR person face to face. At the very least a quarterly in-person meeting is required. That allows them (me) time to get to know the team, sit down and walk through the roadmap and understand the culture. In those meetings we often find news that you don't think is newsworthy but we know how to leverage. Little hallway gems, I call them. In addition, you might be Portland - based with an entertainment product. The right PR person for you probably lives in LA. Again, it is about the expertise not the location.

Stop asking what media outlets we know

To be honest, it is one the most hated and telling questions. You see, PR people all use the same or similar media databases - it is the key technology used in our trade. So we all have a database of hundreds of thousands of journalists.  Which one were you referring to? It's like asking a plumber how many wrenches he owns instead of what experience they have with sinks.  After 20 years in the business we know a lot of people. And we probably have a few media references. A better question would be to ask us how we got the story in the WSJ vs who we know at the WSJ. Or what are the PR results that are most recent and we are most proud of and how did we measure success? You see we can easily "know" a lot of people, but it is the right pitch that makes them respond. No matter the relationship, a journalist has a job to do, and that is to inform their readers, not pump up their PR friends. No matter who we know, we have to bring them something worth writing about. Oh and ask for client references and if you just can't stop yourself, a media reference.

Don't rely on the proposal

Unless you have them under NDA, the firm probably knows very little about you when you ask for a proposal. They don't know how much "news" you have, how much "news" they can create and what is on the road ahead. You might notice on a few RFPs the first activity is often a brainstorm or messaging session. This is so we can understand what is really going on and build accurate messaging and PR plans around realities. It is a risk for both of you, they have to trust you have news and you have to trust they know what to do with it. But after meeting for only an hour, expect a bit of a cookie-cutter proposal until you show them what is under the hood. Or better yet, get them to sign and NDA first and then have a good, creative session where you play ideas off of each other. Then you not only get an original proposal, you get a truly enthusiastic response about your business.

Understand your scope

Are you a young start up that really only has funding announcement news for the next year? Do any of your announcements warrant a $1400 press release? Do you really only need social media and content marketing? Take a good look at your organization and figure out what kind of a PR program your business can support. If you don't have a marketing team, it is probably too soon. If you just have a single announcement, you don't need a 12 month retainer. If you don't have customers, then spend your money building out acquisition and retention strategies that can be leveraged by PR when it is time. If you have $1B in revenues and need corp comms, a two person team is not right for you either.  Be clear about what you need before you sign up.  Not sure, ask somebody.  Ask me!  I don't like to fail and I don't like to see clients fail.  A good PR firm will at least have a conversation and help you understand scope.

The right PR team for the right stage

I will be honest. I love the fast paced stage of early-stage companies and divisions. But I can't handle too early before there are customers or a product roadmap. I am not the right person for you. I also am the worst consumer PR person you will meet.  I am a nerd who loves books and cartoons.  I wouldn't know the latest in fashion or Hollywood super stars if you paid me.  Even more so, I wouldn't be excited about it. And I am up front and honest about it. If you are too big, I can point you to larger agencies that can throw 10 bodies around your programs and really dial up your brand. If you are too small, I am a great marketing strategy consultant that will advise your teams until you are ready for PR. Find the right PR person, with the right stage experience for you business.  It's kinda like coaches. One gets you to the playoffs, another to the finals and another to (insert world domination term here.)

Personality means a lot

It sounds silly but the personality of your PR person does matter. Can they get excited about your chipset? Would your team want to be stranded with them on a tradeshow island (booth) at Interop? Would they know how to tweet in your CEO's voice? Can they throw an event like no other at SXSW? Is getting you on Good Morning America really a life goal? If your company had bad news would you trust them with it? If you called them in the middle of the night would they respond? Your PR team is going to know a lot about your company. A LOT. They are the first people you are going to call for crisis comms. They are people who need to know how to make your 4th rev of a product interesting news. You need someone with maturity, creativity, discretion and passion. You need someone who loves PR but also loves the business and the space you are in. And it doesn't hurt if they happen to like your fav sport, have a goofy side or build model ships in their spare time. They need to fit your business because you are going to spend a ton of time together.  Go Chelsea!

There are a lot of things that make a good PR team. Experience is the first key point. After that it is finding a team you can work with every day and rely on. Some may be new to your space but know how to tell a story. Others may be new to PR but spent years as a journalist. My best advice is meet in person and meet with several types - small agencies, firms and individuals. Like any process, you will know them when you meet the right one.

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