Public Relations (PR) is one of the best ways to get some quick and potentially expansive exposure. But PR is much more than just crafting press releases and paying to post them to the business wire. Unless you are a larger company that can afford to keep dedicated PR resources in-house, you can do it yourself or bring in a PR vendor to manage it for you.
The cheapest way to get started is to do it yourself, assuming you have enough experience to craft a well-structured press release in the first place. [If you do not know how, you can typically fake it by doing a little research on how to piece one together, but it's not as easy as it may appear.] This approach is affordable, but you will be making a tradeoff in Potential reach vs. Bringing in a vendor or agency with established media relationships. At some point, you will need to bite the bullet and hire a partner or employee to manage the process for you.
Even if you have your sights set on hiring a full time PR representative, I still recommend you start out by managing an experienced partner for at least a few months or through a one-off project. Not only will this give you an extremely valuable experience in the whole process, but it can extend the effectiveness of your first campaign (s) exponentially … assuming you select the right vendor.
I present to you the following seven steps to select the right vendor. If you follow these steps to the letter, your odds of getting it right will increase significantly.
1. Scope the project – I can not stress strictly enough how important it is to do a deep dive into what you are trying to accomplish, why you intend to do it, and how you intend to do there, before you start talking to Any potential PR partners. Know what you want from the start, and know how much strategic input you are expecting from your vendor of choice. Most of the time, PR is needed to bring attention to an event, a product launch, or some other significant development. These events should be promoted with a full integrated marketing assortment, and PR needs to fit a specific role within that assortment. Once you are comfortable with the whole plan, then you can turn your attention to the details of the PR part.
2. Document the PR components needed – Specify the activities and documents you will be expecting from your chosen vendor. Writing press releases only? Distributing releases to the wire? Media outreach? Article placement? Editing contributed content? Managing syndication? Blog outreach? As you can tell, there are many things they can do to get the word out for you. Be very clear what your expectations are.
3. Spell out submission requirements – Once you know exactly what you need from your partner-to-be, outline it in detail. I recommend formalizing it into a Request-for-Quote (RFQ). There are dozens of RFQ formats you can find online or through colleges, and in my experience, PR outfits take it more seriously when done this way. Typical components of an RFQ include company and product overview, project scope, expected deliverables, submission guidelines (how / where to submit, when, and in what format), whether references are expected or not, what work samples to submit, and key Media they can leverage for your benefit. Be absolutely sure they you require well-established contacts in the publications and online services where you want coverage. Of all requirements, this is the most important.
4. Identify potential partners – This is where you can waste a lot of time searching, so it is critical that you start out with a vision of the type of partner who'd be a fit for you. I recommend avoiding individual PR consultants or other one-person outfits. Just like with any outsourcing partner, it's best to have more than one contact at the company to cover for vacations or time out sick. Sometimes individual outfits will have a backup plan, sometimes a partnership with another PR consultant, to cover for these accidents. When you are just starting out, you also want to avoid very large agencies, where it takes $ 5K / month to really start seeing value add once you factor in the overhead of client management fees. Be sure to take advantage of your network for referrals, because a recommended vendor is much more likely to work out than someone random who you find in the telephone book or online.
5. Engage in dialogue – Once you identify candidates, send them your RFQ document. I always include a blur about when / how we can have a dialogue to clarify areas of confusion, answer questions, and start building some rapport. This can get a little tricky, because some vendors will not take advantage of the opportunity, others will need one call only, and still others will want to ping you daily. This process is important because it helps you see how they operate. If they're high maintenance, you can expect the same behavior once they're on the clock. If they seem to pop in and out randomly, you may have problems getting in contact when you need them. This is a trial run in working together, so pay attention.
6. Evaluate responses – If you did a good job of specifying submission requirements and timing, you should have all of your responses in hand by the deadline. I rarely let a vendor slide if they submit late, because again, it's a negative indicator of their ability to meet deadlines. Review all of the documents, looking at cost quoted, timeline proposed, and complementeness of response. Have a decision matrix in mind where you can score them in an objective manner – perhaps scoring them in each important area on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being a perfect fit and 1 being a mismatch. Include a category for their work style as mentioned in step five.
7. Select partner – This part of the process may differ for each and every one of you. The key here is to simplify rapidly. Look at the scores from step six and eliminate anyone who score is far below everyone else. Look at what you are getting and when, and compare against cost proposed. Do not be so shortsighted as to just pick the cheapest option without considering what they are doing for the money and what your network can tell you about them. Get it to the top two or three options, and look for more resources to help determine whether they are good at what they do or not. In the end, decide if your scoring approach is more important or your "gut", and go with whatever you think will be best for your business.
Sealing the deal: Break the news to all involved
First, notify the party you selected directly via telephone if at all possible. You are engaging in a working relationship, so the least you can do is call to tell them. Do the same with all the "losers" in the process. They will want to know why they did not make the cut, and you should absolutely share that detail with them. After all, if someone wants advice on how to improve their business, why would not you want to help? Karma applies in business too.
There you have it … seven steps to getting a new PR partner identified, selected, and on board. This may seem like a little overkill with the RFQ, but it is not. Trust me, you want to avoid heads if at all possible, and this is a way to get through the process most efficiently.