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Using a PR agency

Public relations and PRGetting good PR is not always easy. Using the services of a professional public relations company can pay dividends in the long term.

PR agencies offer specialist skills and experience and they have extensive media contacts. In order to decide whether to employ the services of a PR agency, you need to analyse what your business stands to gain from PR.

At the same time, you must honestly assess how much time you can devote to public relations yourself and how far your own skills can take you. How comfortable are you writing your own press releases? Are you confident you could handle media requests in the event of a crisis?

Choosing a PR agency

Whether or not to use an agency often comes down to money. If your PR budget is over £10,000 then you would be well placed to approach an agency. If it's less but you still need help, you may be better off looking for a freelance PR consultant or copywriter.

When you're searching for a PR agency, a good starting point is Marketing Nation, a directory and website that lists PR agencies and PR specialists. In order to find a PR firm that understands your sector, it is also worth asking your own contacts, such as journalists and business associates, who they would recommend.

Draw up a shortlist of PR consultancies that specialise in your industry or who have experience with clients of your size and type. It's best to select agencies that have the right type of media contacts in place already. Location is also important as you should meet regularly.

Some agencies may be tempted to give you a one-size-fits-all service but it's vital to establish that your PR agency will give you a tailor-made service - make your PR firm work for you.

Establish your PR goals before you brief the contenders. At the same time, explain to them what makes your company and product different. Start by arranging face-to-face meetings. This 'chemistry' test will establish which PR teams you would most like to work with.

Now you can brief the best of the bunch and request written proposals, client references and quotations. A good PR agency will ask a lot of questions before they make any proposals.

When it comes to costs, you need to assess value for money and potential results, not just compare prices. A more experienced firm will charge more but should provide you with a more effective PR campaign.

The final decision often comes down to gut instinct and people. This is no bad thing. You need a PR team you can bond with and who understand the challenges you face.

Getting the most out of your PR agency

A successful working relationship starts with clear objectives. You should see your PR agency as an extension of your marketing team. A good PR campaign and the process of winning over the media takes time, so don't expect instant results.

Review the campaign every year. Your PR agency should have a system to measure and evaluate PR coverage and be able to report back to you on progress. If you're disappointed with the results of your PR strategy, it's vital to re-evaluate the campaign, the objectives and the approach.

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