Questions to Ask BEFORE you Hire a PR Firm

By Mark Macias

It’s not easy finding the right service provider for any industry, but in public relations, it can be even more misleading since anyone can call himself a publicist.

So is there a way to weave out the quality from the quantity? And how can you quantitatively measure the value and success of a PR firm?

As a former Executive Producer with NBC in New York,  I was pitched stories on a daily basis from publicists, reporters and producers. And as a Senior Producer with CBS, I pitched stories everyday to a tough audience of skeptical journalists.

Now, as the owner of a PR firm, I see the other side.

In my weekly routine, I converse with all kinds of potential PR clients from various industries – finance, tech, service sector, nonprofits. Some of these potential clients are budding entrepreneurs, while others are established CEOs of major organizations.

Regardless of the potential client, I am discovering most business owners ask the wrong questions when it comes to identifying the best PR firm for their needs.

If I were to hire a PR firm, here are the questions I would want my publicist to answer before I hired him or her. I’m basing this on my media career and my insider knowledge of publicity.

Can you give me a publicity strategy for my product?

This is a crucial question. You want to see how the publicist thinks on his feet. I’ve asked this question to seasoned publicists for fun to get into their heads. Most of them say, I would need to research it. I believe a great publicist will have his own ideas and be able to identify it based on his experience without researching what others did.

How do you see my brand?

This question reveals how well the publicist understands your product, platform or service. Make the publicist or PR team explain how they see your product or service. It’s okay if they don’t understand everything at once. I’ve worked with high-tech platforms that took me time to grasp. This is where the publicist should ask questions to get into your product. From this, you will see how well he or she grasps your business.

Tell me about your clients and the media placements you have gotten for them?

Media placements mean everything in the world of PR. I have gotten my clients big stories in the New York Times, New York Post, Good Morning America, CNN en Español, Fox News, Cosmo, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur Magazine -you get the idea. A diverse portfolio suggests this publicist knows how to identify a narrative, regardless of industry, which is not an easy task. Equally important, make sure the media placements this PR firm has secured are in the same arena of your targeted news outlets.

Will I be working directly with you?

Most of the large PR firms in New York will send their best sellers to get your business, but after they win your account, they will pawn off the work to a 22-year-old college grad. How do I know? Because at NBC and CBS, I used to get emails and phone calls from publicists who were fresh out of college while their bosses tried to win my love with after-work events. Make sure you know who is developing the strategy and representing your company to journalists.

What if we don’t get along?

This is a great question because relationships matter in business. If you’re working with a publicist and the chemistry is off, you should be able to get a new person on the account. It’s normal to have differences over strategy. I’ve clashed with some clients because they wanted it done their way, but after I explained my strategy and after we delivered strong results, most of them deferred to my expertise when it came to the media.

How long before we get to see your results?

I’m not giving away my answers to this question, but you should ask it.

What is your media experience?

Experience matters when it comes to anything in life, but it especially matters with the media. Just because your publicist knows how to sell, don’t assume he or she knows how to sell a story to the media. This is a craft and skill that involves a strong understanding of editorial. I would want to hear more about this PR team’s editorial experience within the media. And I’m not talking about, “oh, I’ve worked with this person on stories.” Working with a producer on a story is not the same work as actually producing the story.

Why are you different from everyone else?

Force this publicist to sell him or herself. They are going to be selling you for a living, so you better make sure this publicist knows how to sell himself.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC, Senior Producer with WCBS and Special Projects Producer with NBC. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.