As the CEO of a tech PR agency, I speak with a lot of startups and their founders. It’s not uncommon for the CMO or whoever hired the last PR team to tell me that the last PR team “didn’t cut it” or “They just couldn’t get any placements for us.” What I rarely hear is a follow-up confession, such as, “We just did a bad job at providing them with the tools and support they needed to succeed” or “You know, I just didn’t give them enough time and attention.”
The truth is, a PR agency needs time, speed and input from their clients to have any chance at doing their jobs well. It’s a two-way relationship, and both sides need a strong understanding of expectations to make a long-term partnership work well. Unfortunately, most PR firms don’t spell these expectations out for potential clients.
Below, I share some of the top questions to ask so you can guide the conversation intelligently with your next agency before signing on the dotted line.
1. How much time do you need from me every week?
This is perhaps the most critical question, and the answer can sometimes surprise CMOs or marketing heads who haven’t worked with PR teams before. The answer will likely range from “at least a few hours a week” to “at least half of your day” when in breaking news and crisis moments.
Unlike a law firm or a developer team, which may wait for a weekly status call to update you on all activities they complete in a silo, effective PR teams will have multiple updates on a weekly basis. These may include news digests, pitch ideas, updates from reporters, interview requests, messaging approvals, ripe media conversations in your industry landscape and so on. And most -- if not all -- of these items require a response from you.
2. How quickly do you need me to respond?
An all-star PR agency will give you the “by when” for everything so you’re not left wondering when a response is due or when a deadline is approaching. This question shows you’re being particularly proactive, as media opportunities can vanish if a response isn’t given within the reporter’s time frame.
A good follow-up question to this is, “If something is urgent, what’s the best way for me to reach the team?” For breaking news and crisis moments, speed is of the essence. Ensure you have your communication channels and their protocols ironed out, such as identifying an email for non-press matters, or texts, phone calls and emails for urgent requests.
3. Who else do you need access to?
The answer from your agency should never be "just you." As the marketing head or CMO, you may have authority to make decisions and approve budgets, but you don’t know what’s inside the CEO’s head, what thought leadership platform the CTO may have or what data your sales team may be sitting on.
Don’t block access to other important figures in the company who may have great story angles and ideas brewing for your PR agency, even if you think you’ve teased all the stories out. Instead, help the agency connect with these folks, and listen in on the conversations to gain further insights.
4. How and when do we share feedback and KPIs?
A structure for consistent feedback and key performance indicator (KPI) progress is helpful so you and your PR team can course correct if things aren’t on track or meeting your expectations. At BAM, we have a portion of our agenda called “How are we doing?” so every week, we can run down the list of KPIs we’re tracking and ask our clients directly for feedback on a particular piece of media coverage, an interview from the past week or how we handled a reporter. This structure also enhances our partnership and helps establish trust.
The last thing most PR teams want is to arrive at the end of a campaign and find that you and other internal stakeholders haven’t been pleased with the results. With the answers from the above questions, you should be well-equipped to better manage and collaborate with your PR agency to yield the best results.