You may read this blog title and think, yeah my agency asked me questions before signing, but I still wasn’t happy with the service provided. Or better yet, they did not ask any questions and falsely assured our team that they could help our company land a story in national news or get us ‘tons’ of business through their PR tactics. As a result, your team may feel that 'our last PR agency was terrible' or 'they did not deliver x amount of leads as promised'. If this sounds familiar or if you’re a company that’s been burned by an agency in the past — your experience may be the result of your PR agency NOT asking the right questions before signing.
When working with a PR agency, the foundation of your partnership is crucial to setting the appropriate expectations of what PR can and can't do for your business. It also sets the stage and clarifies how you and your agency will work together. This foundation begins in the questions - which should happen before you sign. One pitfall companies run into is following the shiny PR agency from interest to signing a service agreement without getting foundational questions out of the way first.
The right agency will ask questions during your biz dev process. As a client, this moment is key in evaluating how much the agency knows about your industry and how they can help your business with PR. For the agency, this early work is crucial in making sure you can deliver on what the client is looking for.
Questions your PR agency should ask include:
What are your differentiators? What makes your company special?
These are some of the 101 questions a PR agency should ask out the gate before you sign a service agreement. Your differentiators are the gold nuggets of your company story. Without understanding why your company is better than the next competitor, an agency can go down a rabbit hole of press opportunities that don't hit the mark. Instead of breaking through the noise, or getting any coverage at all, your stories may blend in with the rest of the other news out there. Something your team wants to steer clear of, especially if your team is serious about investing in PR to grow company awareness and brand.
Have they asked questions that demonstrate an understanding of your business, the industry, or the media landscape?
A tell-tale sign if you have the right agency or not is making sure the questions around these topics aren’t super generic. You can begin to evaluate the agency’s expertise in your field by how they ask these questions and how specific they are to your business. The right agency should ask clear questions. For example, where do you feel your company sits in the supply chain shortage? How is your product impacted by the industry's chip shortage? If your agency is familiar with the industry, they will have a pulse on top of mind issues impacting companies in your space. Other specific questions should evaluate if your leadership team has a defined opinion about your position in the market. These questions do more than give your agency a clear picture of your business but help you, as the client, better gauge if the agency will add value to your press strategy versus you having to educate them about your industry. The latter is what you want to stay away from.
What have they asked you about the rest of your marketing mix?
Almost any business leader may realize the moment they need press relations. This moment can be spurred by a recent announcement, new funding, or the need to stand out in a very competitive landscape. However, where marketers and business leaders often fall short in building a strong press strategy is not understanding how marketing and PR work together. Before signing, an agency should ask questions to get a clear picture of the work your marketing is already doing on your owned media (social media, blogs, whitepapers, case studies) or your existing earned media (podcasts, interviews, or thought leadership). At BAM, we evaluate the complete marketing mix of each client before signing. This pre-work allows us to establish a communications strategy that leverages all components of your existing marketing mix. Great marketing makes for stronger stories that publications will want to pick up.
Which audiences would you want to reach to consider the partnership successful?
A strong story needs a targeted audience. Before signing with an agency, they should ask questions about your target audience and get to the why and who you are trying to reach through press outlets. Are you looking to attract top talent to your company? Are you trying to catch the eye of investors? Do you want to establish credibility in the industry to gain more customers? Maybe the answer is all three. An agency needs to understand these priorities to help develop a strategy that meets your expectations. It’s also important to note that a PR strategy should not be geared to focus on everyone. The right PR strategy not only understands your unique industry message but where your ideal audience will find this information. When an agency understands who you plan to target, the outlets they suggest to pitch to become more focused, and your likelihood of being noticed by the right audience increases.
What's your story? How do you want to be seen in the media?
This is one of the most important questions your agency should be asking. Working with a PR agency is a partnership more than a traditional contractor/client relationship. Everyone’s reputation is on the line when sharing stories that will ultimately influence the buying decision of your customers, drive investors to invest, or help others better understand your impact in the world. Most publications are also interested in knowing ‘why’. They want to know why your company over the next company in your space. Why do you want to become the next leader in your industry? Are you trying to solve a complex challenge in your space? These questions will help your agency craft the right story that resonates with your audience and help drive awareness of your brand.
Now that you have a sense of what your agency should be asking, you have one more tool in your toolbox to help identify the right press partner for your brand. If they aren’t asking these questions, this should raise a few flags if you plan to get started. Take time to evaluate your press partner and talk to more than one agency to get perspective on who does this best. At the end of the day, your brand is on the line and you want to nail the right partner who can help you elevate this.
Alex Wilhelm of TechCrunch+ answered your questions about technology and journalism.