Questions to Ask a PR Firm – Former Journalist and PR Expert Explain

By Mark Macias

The 2018 budget is approved. RFPs are issued. Now it’s time to find the best PR firms to raise the profile of your businesss.

During my time as Executive Producer with NBC in New York, publicists pitched me constantly, trying to get their clients on the news. Some would try calling me at odd hours, while others would email story ideas. The higher level publicists would invite me out for drinks or social events.

Now, as the owner of a NYC public relations firm, I see the other side, and it’s not pretty.

Most business owners and marketing executives frequently ask me the same questions as they try to search for the best PR firms. In my experience, they are asking the wrong questions.

Here are some of the questions I would want my publicist to ask if I was trying to hire a top PR firm.

Questions to Ask a PR Firm before Hiring Them

1) What is your media strategy?

This question is the driving force behind every successful media campaign. The majority of potential clients usually ask me which reporters I know, or who I know. That is not a media strategy. It’s an assist. You can be BFF with the Executive Producer or newspaper editor, but if you don’t have a solid story or narrative, you are not getting publicity. Make sure you understand the strategy and don’t confuse contacts for strategy.

2) How would you position my brand?

This question reveals how well the PR firm understands your product, platform or service. 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. The key is trying to identify how well the PR firm grasps what is unique about your business.

3) Will I be working directly with you?

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) Who are your clients and what media have you secured for them?

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) How long before we see your results?

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 media 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 are you different from everyone else?

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?

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.

Macias PR was named the 2017 Strategic PR Firm of the Year and 2016 and 2015 top PR Firm of the Year – USA by Finance Monthly. The founder – 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.