“So check out who binds forever” – although choosing the right agency is not as far-reaching a matter as choosing a partner. However, a lot of time, energy and money can be wasted with the wrong agency.
But how do you decide on the right communication agency? Which direct and indirect factors should one pay attention to so that the subsequent cooperation is crowned with success?
Self-reflection: what do you actually want?
Before actually looking for an agency, first clarify why and for what purpose you want to hire a PR agency. What are your expectations, what and how much support do you need for what? How much budget can you invest and how long? Also think about what you don’t want (at this point in time). Collect your most important points on the task, current status, background information, goal (group), budget and time frame in a briefing document. This forms the basis for the subsequent pitch process – and helps you not to get lost.
After this self-reflection, it is important to take a look at potential agencies . Which “hard” and “soft” selection criteria should an agency meet?
The price: don’t save at the wrong end
Some selection factors are of course very obvious – such as a good price-performance ratio and the range of products. What services does the agency offer you in what model? Do you receive an “all-round carefree” package or are you billed according to (additional) services? Are there fixed retainers with notice periods or is payment made depending on the project or even based on success?
Even if a low price or a flexible project model seems cheaper and tempting at first glance, you shouldn’t save at the wrong end. Since PR needs time and consistency, pure project work rarely makes sense – among other things because you often have to pay training periods directly or indirectly. In addition, the service providers naturally also prioritize; and customers with whom a long-term and predictable cooperation is foreseeable, therefore usually receive more attention.
Service portfolio: what can the agency actually do?
Of course, there should also be an overlap between the agency’s service portfolio and your needs and wishes. But be also open to new suggestions from the PR professionals. External perspective and experience often help to better assess expectations and, if necessary, to bring in additional ideas – even if this sometimes means that agencies advise against something. Even if nobody likes to hear criticism, a constructive-critical assessment of your concerns brings you more than just being rubbed honey around your mouth. Therefore, listen particularly carefully when the PR experts present their assessment and any counter-proposals. Because a good cooperation is characterized by the fact that the agency is not only a purely executing service provider, but can instead act as a partner on an equal footing. The best ideas thrive in such a constructive environment.
At the same time, you should also check whether the providers can actually keep what they promise. Of course, every agency tries to present itself in the best possible light. However, some overdo it and ascribe to themselves competencies that they do not always have in this form. In other words, all that glitters is not gold; and it makes sense to carefully check offers and providers – apart from melodious phrases.
So see if the offer is realistic at all. Has the agency made the effort to formulate a tailor-made offer – or are there even wrong company names due to copy & paste? Does the agency understand your company, your product and your needs and wishes? Does the agency even have experience in your thematic field?
Small quality check: customer portfolio
(Former) clients of the agency offer a good starting point. Take a close look at who the agency has already worked with. Of course, agencies will always mention the biggest and best-known customer names – even if the cooperation may have been years ago and the customer may still be an unknown startup at the time. Therefore, pay attention not only to big names, but also to thematic overlaps with your own company as well as the timing, type and duration of the projects. Because previous thematic experience not only shortens the content-related familiarization period, but also promises a suitable network of journalists – the be-all and end-all of press work. Instead of the big, well-known agency, a smaller but specialized agency can be useful for you.
If the customer cooperation is only of short duration, you should be taken aback. Because keeping customers can be more exhausting than winning new customers. Frequent short collaborations can indicate that the agency promises its customers heaven on earth in the pitch, but fails in the subsequent collaboration due to the high expectations. It is therefore ideal if you can get personal experience with the provider from your network.
Team composition: People are everywhere
If you have the opportunity, a quick check by the team is also informative. Who and how many team members would you actually work with? Do you only get to know the employees who pitch new customers or also the team members who would work with you? How qualified and competent are all those involved and what would the specific distribution of tasks be?
Keep in mind that the customer pitches and communication are often taken over by higher-ranking colleagues – the actual customer work is then done by junior team members. If you only communicate with senior employees who do not work on the account themselves, but only pass on feedback to the operational staff, this can lead to friction losses: information is lost and quality falls by the wayside.
Do not underestimate “soft” selection criteria
In addition to these obvious criteria, it is in your own interest to take other, indirect factors into account when making your selection: Management and employee loyalty as well as tone of voice. Because such indirect factors also have an impact on a possible later cooperation.
In order for you to receive high-quality results, it is important that the responsible employees can concentrate fully on customer work. The prerequisites for this are confident management and competent staff management. Therefore, try to filter out what the employees say about their agency – either in a personal conversation or through platforms such as Kununu, Glassdoor and Co. Are there frequent changes or do employees leave the agency overnight at short notice? These can all be warning signs for you – because sooner or later such internal problems will also affect customer work.
Also pay attention to how the employees communicate with you and with each other . If they are already abrupt or even rude in the pitch process, this should be a warning sign to you. Especially in the communication industry, which is all about persuasiveness, knowledge of human nature, good manners, parquet security and empathy are a must. Because if someone is already messing around with a potential customer, how does he react to journalists?
Even if this seems to be a long list and indirect factors are also taken into account: It is in your own interest that you invest some time and resources in advance so that you select the right partner for your communication needs to the best of your knowledge and belief.