Before hiring someone for your company, you scrutinize their credentials and interview them personally. This is important because you want to know how they present themselves. Customers and prospects will form an opinion of your firm based on interactions with your employees.
The same consideration should be given when retaining a PR firm, since those working on your account will be the first points of contact with the media.
There’s an ugly tradition of bait and switch in the PR industry. It’s common for senior executives from the PR firm to participate in meetings to pitch a new account, then staff the account with inexperienced associates. Oftentimes, clients don’t even know the staffers working on their account.
How can you be certain you can trust the PR associates representing your company with the media? Here are some questions to ask:
What is the background of my team? Before making media calls on your behalf, clients should review the background and experience of the associates assigned to their account. For those interfacing with reporters, you’ll want to know how much experience they have interacting with reporters and what successes they’ve experienced. You want to make sure team members understand the goals of your PR program, as well as your company/product. It’s also a good idea to interview your team by phone, as most reporter pitching takes place via phone.
What’s the reputation of my team? When reporters complain about PR professionals, they gripe most often about people who badger them or present them with half truths in order to secure a client interview. Rather than scoring a client interview, the goal of calling the reporter should be to foster a long-term relationship between the media and the client. Strong relationships are built on meeting mutual needs and trust. If that happens, the client interview will naturally follow. Ask to talk with a reporter or two who can give you insight into the reputation of team members.
What happens when things go wrong? Like everyone else, media people are not perfect. Occasionally they make mistakes, miss appointments, misidentify sources, fail to give appropriate credit, or write something that’s just wrong. A mature PR professional will reach out to reporters and calmly discuss what changes should be made and how to avoid this type of problem going forward. Responding to an unhappy client by yelling at a reporter is a double whammy: not only is the client unhappy, now the reporter is too. Ask team members to recount a time when they had to have an uncomfortable conversation with a reporter and how the issue was resolved.
Finally, when you hire a PR agency, ask yourself: if given the opportunity would I hire the person doing media outreach as a direct employee? If the answer is “no” then that person shouldn’t be on your agency team.