Contrary to the popular saying, all PR is not good PR, so the primary concern of any good PR consultancy is reputation.
Shining the PR spotlight on a business will only improve its reputation if what the spotlight shows is positive. It’s our job to make sure it is. How do we do that? What does ‘GOOD’ look like in outsourced PR?
A good consultancy will first spend time, usually a month, working hard to understand your business; what makes it successful and what are the challenges? In the early days the relationship with your PR consultancy should therefore feel more like the one you would expect to have with a business consultancy, only much more intimate. We need to know all about you.
Onyx, like most good smaller consultancies, specialises in a small number of sectors where we have the expertise, experience and contacts. Even so, each new client has to be researched thoroughly; where do they fit in their industry, why do people buy from them, what are the competition doing? We don’t just rely on the briefing provided (although that is important), we carry out desk research, attend trade shows and use investigative journalists to find any information that a hostile journalist would expose. New clients are often surprised by what we tell them about them and their business. It is sometimes the first time that this type of external review has been done. It is not uncommon for us to advise that the business is not yet ready for PR or for us to help them to make some fundamental changes to the business.
You will find that good PR specialists are a feisty lot. We deal daily with journalists, we know how they think, what they’re likely to say and how they will react to your message. We’ve managed crises and have learned, the hard way, what can go wrong. We know if your message is not going to work, or carries risks, and it is our job to tell you so (which can be difficult when the messaging has been the subject of long away days and the whole company has enthusiastically bought into it). It is far better that we tell you the things you don’t want to hear in private, than leave you exposed to a journalist’s public criticism, or for PR not to work as no-one understands what you do.
Once these initial challenges are overcome, a good PR company will look for the stories that will make the media want to talk about you positively. In the B2B sector those stories are often in short supply (your award, new website, customer or appointee is unlikely to get much interest) so a good PR consultancy will look for ways to create news stories with you at the centre. Two of the most common routes in B2B PR are thought leadership, via things like placed articles and content such as white papers, and surveys; the media loves statistics. Interesting case studies are also useful assets, particularly if you can provide strong imagery. However, they must pass what I call the ‘pub’ test. Is the story interesting enough that you would want to repeat it to a friend in the pub? A good PR consultancy will interview the subject of the case study to find the detail of the story that turns the case study, from a very dull report of your business doing its job, to something that you would want to read in the evening paper. Good PRs, like journalists, are story tellers. Let them help you find those stories and write your content. If you give them the key words they should also be happy to help support your SEO.
With so much planning to do it can feel like nothing is achieved in the first few weeks of appointing a PR agency. It is actually the time that they’re doing some of the most valuable work, and almost certainly going well over the hours you’re paying for. If the consultancy doesn’t do this work it is putting your business at risk so you should question any that start to pitch you to the press immediately. The most effective PR builds over time. We have worked with BPS World for five years now and each year we see a significant increase in the coverage achieved and the impact of that coverage.
A good consultancy will agree a plan of work and then report back regularly, at least once a month in writing, on the work they’re doing for you and their performance against the KPIs you’ve agreed. Aside from that, they should keep you informed of key activity on an ad hoc basis so that you’re always plugged in. You should also expect to see cuttings on the day the coverage is published. The consultancy should proactively amend the plan to fit the news agenda; if your story can be made relevant to a topical news agenda it should be. Some months you’re likely to get much more coverage than others. You should judge the consultancy’s performance over the course of the year.
PR consultancies are representing your business in a way that few other outside organisations will. Journalists will regurgitate what the PR has told them, so that is what the public will hear about your business. Too often in PR agencies the interaction with journalists is left to the most junior member of the team, the new graduate. It is well worth checking, at pitch stage, who will be doing this work. Do they understand your business? Would you be happy with them presenting, in public, about your business, as that is exactly what they will be doing? Onyx sees this as a critical part of good service, and we only use experienced team members who we are confident are experts in the subject to represent our clients.
In summary what does good service look like from a PR consultancy? A good PR consultancy should:
- Work hard to understand your business and act as a business consultancy, challenging you when necessary
- Plan carefully but be adaptable to take advantage of the news agenda
- Recognise the huge trust you’re putting in their hands by using suitably experienced staff to represent you at all stages of the work
- Be good story tellers and able to create interesting, accurate, professional content
- Report back regularly and show their impact on your business, against agreed KPIs, by around six months
Anne Cantelo s the Founder and Managing Director of Onyx Media & Communications for further information on any of the topics discussed in the blog please contact Anne on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Onyx website: www.onyxcomms.com