Note: Marketing firms call themselves everything under the sun. Truth is the “handle” or “descriptor” is not important, but what IS important is their experience, the services they provide, their “personality” and the likelihood for great chemistry, then location, years in business and this list goes on. However you searched for a PR firm so that’s our topic.
Oh the drama and angst of searching, finding, evaluating and then hiring a new PR firm. Some say it compares to finding and hiring a new C-Suite executive. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Follow these simple suggestions below and you’ll enjoy a pleasant and educational process that you might later tell your associates – was fun!
Step # 1, Rule #1– You will never find a winning partner among a pack of losers. Lesson #1 – The most important and critical stage of your review is the identification of candidates. The first temptation is a Google search. Google’s first assumption, like it is for a fast-food lookup is that you want your agency nearby, so they perform a local search. If that’s your desire, fine. But if you already know who’s in your market, then that’s of little help. Same for Bing and Yahoo. All steer you to websites where navigating and comparing can be a nightmare. Another revelation – there is no set standard for agency websites (thank goodness) but that means you’re in for lots of variety and confusion as you page your way, or scroll your way through dissimilar agency websites. I do promise you will be entertained if you are easily amused.
Let’s find your candidates. Don’t try to identify candidates one at a time, look for a service or search consultant that will help. Try search terms like “Ad Agency Search Service,” “Ad Agency Database,” “Digital Agencies,” “Find PR Firms,” “Agency Search Consultant,” or other variants. If you want assistance a search consultant is your ticket, but they come at a price. One free search consulting service that’s been around for some time is AgencyFinder.com. Check them out. Once you’ve found what you want there or elsewwhere, define what it is you need.
What do you need in location or locations, size (employee count), Capitalized Billings (aggregate spend), Years in business? Then more specifically:
- Fields served (vertical market experience)
- Services offered
- Market Specialization
- Membership in Professional Organizations
- Compensation options
- Media experience
- Primary Business (ad agency, digital, etc.)
Step #2 Identify 20 or more agencies (yes 20) and then spend time on their websites. Build a spreadsheet to manage your work. Look for reasons to remove some, not to invite them. Narrow your list to 12-15. Put together your invitational package (an outline of what you seek from the agency) but not an RFP – that’s premature. Prepare an invitation that can be sent by email, fax or overnight carrier. Don’t interview anyone until they have your invitation in-hand and have come forward. Instruct those with interest to send an email to schedule a day and time for a telephone interview. You invite 15; 10 may respond and wish to continue.
Step #3 Hold your due-diligence telephone interviews. The “format” is free-flowing but an opportunity to get to know each other, learn what they do and how they do it, probe to discover to what extent they have experience in and understand your industry. Note what questions they ask you. Determine if they are interested in becoming your agency. If YES, ask them to send you a “Pitch package” – a collection of relevant samples of similar work, then an open-format letter describing how and why they want your business. You or they eliminated 3. You are down to 7.
Step #4 Examine those agency materials and share what they sent with colleagues. Decide who to cut and who to keep. Notify both with pleasant, professional messages – email or phone. Those who are cut will invariably want to know why; try to be honest but gentle. DO NOT fail to notify those you have cut. You cut 2, down to 5.
Step #5 For those still in contention, let them know and if your budget warrants, schedule a visit to those agencies. Plan for an “Agency Tour,” an opportunity to see their facility, meet various employees, see finished and work-in-progress. Look as well for work lying around that isn’t in your wheelhouse, but something you might have admired. Form your opinion and make judicious notes. After visiting 5 semi-finalists your top 2-3 should be evident.
Step #6 Invite the Top 2-3 to come to your headquarters and make final presentations. Give them adequate time to prepare. You identify the assignment and provide the facility. Voila!!! Discover your new agency!