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How to find the right PR agency

In today’s complicated world, where distrust is growing, loyalty is diminishing and missteps can go viral, a PR agency is an indispensable business and communications partner. However, with the current proliferation of PR agencies, finding the best PR agency for your organization can be a daunting task.

In the past, PR agencies often demonstrated their skill by brandishing thick reports filled with hundreds of media clips, millions of media impressions and impressive ad equivalency values. Although media relations are still an important part of many communication strategies, the right PR partner will provide your organization with far more than a weighty media coverage report.

Skilled PR partners today are highly capable strategic advisors who understand your business and marketing challenges and provide thoughtful, measured counsel on how to address them through strategic communications. Unlike the one-size-fits-all PR practitioners who churn out news releases and roll out formulaic media relations, influencer and digital media campaigns; strategic communicators delve deep into your business and strategic priorities and challenge your thinking. At your initial meeting, they’ll typically ask questions about your immediate and long-term priorities, the problems you’d like PR to solve and why you think PR can solve the problem. They’ll likely assess your risk tolerance – your comfort for trying something different or taking a stand. They’ll also probe to uncover stories your organization can tell.

PR is an investment and providing a worthwhile return on investment is a priority for all good PR professionals. However, influencing consumer behaviour, increasing brand awareness, building relationships and becoming a thought leader requires smart, strategic communications over time. Be wary of an agency that promises immediate or extraordinary results.

Beacon has a smart, gutsy client who asked us to generate eight to 10 strong leads for businesses that would be willing to move to their shrinking, small town in northern Ontario. It was a challenging assignment and we were honest with our client that we may not be able to achieve their goal. However, with their assistance, we shaped and strategically shared a quirky, compelling story that showed the town council was innovative and savvy and the community was a good place to open a business. The story did go viral, resulting in more than 1,000 business queries and a very happy client. This success is the testament to the power of a strategic PR partner and a client who was willing to take a risk.

Success for another of our clients – a long-established beauty brand that was re-inventing itself – looked very different. We secured a two-page feature story in the Pursuits section of the Saturday Globe and Mail that told the story of the brand’s evolution. The client was ecstatic, but they’d also been very patient as they understood getting the right results take time: the story ran four months after we sent our initial pitch.

When looking for a PR partner, pay close attention to the questions they ask during your initial meeting and equally close attention to how they answer yours. If they’re focused on audience reach and number of clips, they’re probably garden-variety PR practitioners. But if they do a deep dive into your business challenges and objectives, get a feel for your risk appetite and come back with smart, insightful recommendations and realistic timelines and results, they’re likely strategic communicators that will bring real value to you and your organization.

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