How to Get Started with a PR Firm: Four Tips for a Fruitful Relationship

Frequently new clients don’t really know how to work with us when they first hire us.  There are a few common problems, and start-ups (our specialty), whether domestic or from overseas, are more likely to experience them.

A steakhouse appetite on a fast-food budget

The best marketing directors we’ve worked with are excellent at prioritizing what’s essential now versus what can wait until they can afford it. Most marketing directors at start-ups worked for companies with bigger budgets and more back-up internally in previous jobs. They’re very needy when it comes to PR and marketing communications.  They want a lot of help, but can’t afford a big budget.    Prioritizing is essential in that environment.

A winning formula in one country may not work in others

The first common mistake business people from other countries make is assuming that the market here can’t be that much different from their own.  Companies from outside the U.S. often start a relationship with a PR company here by asking for the same services they received at home: “Here’s what we want from you. We need you to [choose one:] “set up a press conference,” [or] “arrange Wall Street Journal and New York Times interviews and get our CEO on the ‘Today’ show.”

They don’t know how the U.S. media works and how different it is from their own country.  We have to explain that press conferences are rarely held in the U.S.  to make a corporate announcement – unless it’s Steve Jobs announcing the launch of the iPad or BP trying to manage the communications after an oil spill. They aren’t aware of how social media is being used in public relations and marketing communications in the U.S., since social media is mostly just social (so far) in a lot of countries. The size and diversity of the United States is just an intellectual concept to them and not something they’ve experienced, so they think PR will cost about the same here as it does at home.

We’re consultants. Ask us what to do, don’t tell us what to do.

The second mistake is telling us what to do instead of asking us what we think should be done.  In many other countries, public relations doesn’t garner as much respect as  it does here.  Some of you are snickering, reading this, because the PR industry has its own image problems in theU.S., and we often feel we don’t get enough respect. Nevertheless, we have it good compared to PR people in many parts of the world.   It’s not uncommon for the most senior PR person in the company to  report directly to the CEO and sit on the senior management committee.  That’s respect.

We can’t help if we don’t know what’s really going on

When companies get started with a PR firm, it’s really important for them to brief the firm thoroughly and answer questions honestly and openly.  The PR industry’s code of ethics requires that confidential client information be kept confidential.  A company that is nervous about this can require its PR firm to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

If a company is secretive with its PR firm, the PR firm can’t help position the company favorably among competitors. If there’s a big problem the PR firm doesn’t know about and it comes out, the PR team is in a very awkward and difficult position of receiving media calls about an issue they didn’t know exists. Delays in responding and hesitation about how to answer difficult questions cause the client to look bad to the media.

When a company hires a PR firm, there’s a learning curve on both sides. We have to learn about a client’s company, products and/or services and goals, and the client needs to find out the best way of working with us.  A good client/agency relationship and a satisfying outcome (for both the client and the agency) are much more likely if we can get started the right way.

Lucy Siegel

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2 Responses to “How to Get Started with a PR Firm: Four Tips for a Fruitful Relationship”

  1. Julie Cole Says:

    Lucy – these are excellent points….I’m forwarding this post on to some friends right now!

  2. reputation management online Says:

    reputation management online…

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