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Ten questions to ask your prospective PR agency

June, 2012

You’ve spent hours developing the brief, despatched it to a number of prospective agencies, read their proposals and shortlisted the lucky three, or four, for interview – but what questions should you ask them when you see the whites of their eyes?

1. Industry knowledge – and examples of successful campaigns?

Can they show that they understand how your industry works? There’s always a learning curve but you don't want to be paying them to learn on the job.

2. Local knowledge and track record?

If you want to raise your profile locally then ask yourself how well do they understand the local community, key stakeholders, and importantly the press. These are all key issues for getting results as soon as possible. Whether or not they have handled a similar challenge before is also an important way of assessing the agency’s suitability.

3. Significance of your account to the agency?

Size does matter and inevitably every business pays attention to their biggest customers. You need to understand where your account sits in relation to others.

4. Who will be on the account team?

Very often, especially among the larger agencies, the team that pitches is often not the same as the one that will do the work. It’s a case of ‘buyer beware’ and an important part of any successful appointment is whether there is the right human chemistry between the agency and client. You wouldn’t appoint an employee without meeting them, why would you do the same with an agency?

The other issue is to get a feel for the agency’s churn rate. Companies hate the six monthly cycle of a new business banker, the same applies to marketing managers and being informed by their agency that their account team has yet again changed with the request for a briefing meeting. Your job isn’t to constantly brief the agency – it’s their job to deliver results and fulfil the brief.

5. Lines of communication?

A key issue is how agencies communicate with their clients and vice versa. Clear, simple lines can make for an easier, more efficient and ultimately happier relationship. How will they make it work? As the client you’ve also got a role to play, the key is honesty on both sides from day one – and that means the pitch.

6. Conflict of interest?

This is a difficult one. You want an agency with industry knowledge, however, you don’t want your new agency to find itself in a difficult position when, by working with others in your industry, they have insider knowledge and are commercially compromised.

7. Financial performance?

This is a difficult question, but one you shouldn’t shy away from asking. Understanding the agency’s financial stability will give you peace of mind that they will be still with you in a year’s time.

8. Client testimonials?

This is all about reassuring you before you sign on the bottomline, but instead of just reading the fine words and accolades, ask if you could actually speak directly with the agency’s lead contact at the client. If there’s any reticence from the prospective agency then alarm bells should be ringing.

9. Journalist testimonials?

If you don’t feel able to ask their clients because they are in the same industry as yourself, why not ask a journalist you respect?

10. Disbursement costs and payment terms?

It’s an obvious question but there’s a need for transparency when comparing prospective agencies. If budget is an issue, and there aren't many companies where it isn’t, then look at the fine print – the expenses and disbursements.

After asking those questions, and comparing the answers from your prospective new suppliers, you should be well placed to appoint the one that fits you best.

Andrew Metcalf - Director

Andrew Metcalf

Maxim / Managing Director

posted in: advice, marketing, media relations, public relations,

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