My team and I were in a meeting with the founder of a new startup a few weeks ago.
A very smart man, he asked us to spend a little time educating him about public relations, marketing, social media, and how they all interact because he knows his business very well, but nothing about what we do.
As is very typical of us, we were completely transparent with him. At one point I joked we were going to talk us out of working with them because I even gave him names of competitors who I respect.
Toward the end of the meeting he asked us to describe how he knows if the communications firm is the right fit for them. A data scientist, he wanted something solid on which to place his decision.
Unfortunately, I told him, 99.9 percent of working with a communications firm is gut, chemistry, and trust. But I could tell he was very uncomfortable with that answer and I've been thinking about it since.
I, of course, have never hired a communications firm because I've worked inside one my entire career so I had to put my business owner hat and think about how we hire professional services firms for work we can't do.
PR Firms: Is it the Right Fit?
- Metrics. What kinds of metrics do they talk about? This particular founder wanted to know if he spent $100,000, if he would get a $10 million return. I told him I thought that expectation was high, but a communications firm should be able to give you an average return-on-investment they achieve for their clients. We average a two and a half or three times return. So, a $100,000 budget would mean another $300,000 in revenue. Chris Penn wrote a smart post about this, too. Check it out here.
- Strategy. It's very, very typical for communications professionals to talk in tactics. The industry, as a whole (not everyone, but most) will talk about speaking engagements, events, content, social media, and crisis communications, but they skim over the strategy part. That said, most firms have really experienced professionals at the highest levels who are excellent at strategy. How much time will they spend in the beginning helping you develop the strategy? If you see the senior level people in the initial meetings, but only junior people after you sign the contract this will be a problem early in the relationship as the strategy is being developed. Make sure you understand how their structure is set up and what kind of attention you'll receive from the senior professionals.
- Integration. In today's 24/7/365 digital world, the firm should be talking about how they integrate the traditional forms of communication with the new. What kind of experience do they have working with the other disciplines? Can they integrate flawlessly and efficiently? What examples can they provide to show you success?
- Multiple forms of media. A few weeks ago, we talked about the four different types of media. Even if the firm doesn't do all four (paid, for instance, typically resides in an advertising agency), they should know not only how to do all four, but how they integrate with one another.
- Chemistry. And yes, I'm sorry to say, chemistry is a big player in who you hire. There are going to be some evenings and weekends you'll have to work together. Do you like them enough to spend time with them, even if it means they're taking you away from your family for a little bit? Do you like them enough to get them what they need to be successful? There are going to be days you are completely swamped and don't have time to deal with them. If you have great chemistry, you won't mind dropping what you're doing to help them.
Communications is not a science; it's an art so it's very difficult to put data around hiring a firm. But if you like the people, like their philosophy, and they do all of the things listed above (and can prove it through case studies and references), you'll have a good match.
P.S. I had a non-life threatening, but serious bike accident yesterday so I'm cheating today and running an AllBusiness Experts post I wrote a few weeks ago. It's cheating because I wouldn't normally run two non-exclusive posts here in one week...having done that this past Monday, too. Forgive me?