By Mark Macias
You’ve decided to hire a PR firm. Make sure you do your due diligence.
Unfortunately, anyone can put up a shingle that says “PR FIRM” but that doesn’t mean the people inside weren’t selling shoes the previous week. This is why it’s so important for YOU to do your research and due diligence before hiring a PR firm.
During my time as Executive Producer with NBC in New York, publicists pitched me constantly, trying to get their clients on the news. Some tried calling me from blocked phone numbers, while others bombarded me with emails. I had a good view of how publicists worked, which were good, which ones had no clue and how they conceptualized stories.
Now, as the owner of a NYC public relations firm, I see the other side of publicity.
How to Identify the Best PR Firm
Potential clients frequently ask me the same questions – who do you know, are you a specialist in my industry, what connections do you have? Unfortunately, these questions are misleading for the potential client because they have nothing to do with media strategy.
I spent more than a decade in television news in New York – with two different networks – so you can safely assume I know a lot of journalists in print and television. And while business owners may think that will get their business on the news, here’s the truth is: it won’t. A successful media campaign requires a strong, timely narrative, it needs solid execution and timely components.
I’d also say a generalist is better than a specialist when it comes to PR because a generalist can better explain a complicated product or service without industry jargon. In today’s vastly changing world of journalism, there are fewer specialists and more generalists reporters. A great publicist will know how to explain products or complicated services on a broader, larger term.
Here are some questions that will help your due diligence the next time you are hiring a PR firm.
1) What is your strategy for placements?
Strategy is the most important component behind every media placement. Make sure you understand the media strategy proposed by the PR firm. Force them to give you specifics on the media execution.
2) How would you position my product or service?
This question reveals how well the PR firm understands your brand. Make the publicist or PR team elaborate on how they see your product or service. Don’t stress if it sounds like they don’t quickly grasp your product or service. This could actually work to your advantage since he or she will likely be asking questions other journalists may want to know. This understanding is one reason why I prefer generalists to specialists. Generalists must learn how to communicate the insider lingo or industry jargon to journalists who are not specialists. During my time in the media, specialists rarely could communicate a specialized product in a broader term that mattered to the majority of consumers.
3) Will I work with you or is someone else developing my media strategy?
Many of the large PR firms send their best sales person to get your business, but after they win your account, they send your work to an inexperienced college grad. How do I know this? Throughout my career at NBC and CBS, the VPs and SVPs would take me out for drinks, while their inexperienced “team members” would pitch me generic ideas. Make sure you know the person who is developing your strategy and representing your company to journalists.
4) What media have you secured for your clients?
Media placements are the calling card for PR and the more diverse the placements, the more talented the PR firm. My PR firm has secured prominent news stories for our clients with the New York Times, New York Post, Good Morning America, CNN en Español, Fox News, Cosmo, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur Magazine. And – these placements were for clients in different industries – tech, political, finance, nonprofits, etc. The more diverse a portfolio, the better understanding this PR firm has of media strategy. Also, don’t assume a specialist makes for a better publicist. I would want to hire a generalist over a specialist because their approach will likely be more creative based on their outside experience.
5) When can we see results based on your experiences?
This question allows you to see how confident the PR team is with your potential business. I’m not giving away my answers to this question, but you should ask it and feel comfortable with the answer.
6) What is your experience?
Experience matters in life, and it is equally important with PR. Many firms like to hire great sales people because they assume they can sell a story to the media. PR is not about sales. It’s about understanding what a reporter needs to get a story sold to his editor. It requires a strong narrative, timely component and assessment of the competition. Personally, I look for critical thinking skills when hiring my PR team members because I know that skill will be used more than a sales skill.
7) Why is your PR firm better than others?
Force the PR firm to sell itself. Yes – this might sound like it contradicts the previous question, but it allows you to see how confident the company or publicist is with their experience. Here’s a clue: listen for objective reasons on why their PR firm is the best. Don’t fall for “subjective” sales pitches, which are really nothing more than an opinion.
8) What if we don’t get along or I’m not happy with the results?
Relationships matter in business. Chemistry doesn’t work for everyone. Make sure the PR contacts allows you to switch publicists or team leaders if you don’t get along with the team leader or begin to lose faith in their media strategy.
Public relations is a cluttered space and unfortunately, anyone can call himself a publicist. This is why you must do your own due diligence to ensure you’re hiring the best PR firm for your business. BTW, Macias PR was named the 2015 top “PR Consultant Firm of the Year – USA” by Finance Monthly. And that recognition came from their journalists – not some PR team…. just saying…
Macias PR was named the 2016 “Financial PR Firm of the Year – USA” and the 2015 “PR Consultant Firm of the Year – USA” by Finance Monthly. We have launched and led media campaigns for clients in healthcare, finance, tech and the nonprofit sectors. The founder of Macias PR – Mark Macias – is a former Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York. He is also a PR contributor with CNBC, providing media analysis, insight and crisis advice on timely business topics.