Whether you’re looking for support to develop a strategy, come up with a new campaign, or help an over-stretched in-house team, a PR agency can contribute a fresh approach and offer expert advice, support and know-how based on extensive experience.

Working with a range of organisations gives agency practitioners valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t, and allows them to keep up to date with the latest developments in PR practice. A good agency will have cultivated excellent media contacts and developed in-depth knowledge of how to make things happen quickly, economically and effectively.

Employing a PR agency doesn’t negate the value of your in-house team, which will have valuable knowledge and experience of the issues, audiences and opportunities. Rather, a good PR agency will work as an extension of that team, complementing and building on their skills and strengths with their own experience.

That said, not all organisations have an existing communications function, and will need to bring an agency on board to provide that service for a short or sustained period of time. And in other instances, in-house comms teams may be small and over-stretched with core activity, so agencies can be recruited to deliver an additional project or campaign, from strategic reviews to awareness months, case study development to thought-leadership.

There are hundreds of PR agencies in the UK and all are different, with different ways of working and different specialist areas.

Look for an agency that complements the aims of your organisation. Agencies will be happy to talk to you about their values, approach and previous work. Ask for references from other clients, as this will give you an idea of what it’s like to work with the team.

A good agency will be as interested in you as you are in them and should work hard to get under the skin of your organisation. You are likely to spend a good deal of time working together, so try to find individuals you feel you could build an open and honest relationship with and who will put your organisation’s interests at the heart of everything they do.

It is important that your agency team displays the same passion for your cause that you do, so question their commitment to their principles. You may also want to check that a company, or the larger group of companies to which it belongs, doesn’t have interests which conflict with your own.

And you need to know exactly what you will get for your money. Make sure any agency you employ emphasises complete transparency and accountability where budgets are concerned.

If you are thinking about working with an agency, you’ll need to develop a brief.

This should outline:

  • What you want to achieve
  • Who you want to communicate with
  • Your priority messages and ideas
  • Any relevant background
  • Your budget

If you haven’t already decided which agency you would like to work with, you may want to put your brief to a number of agencies to see whose ideas fit most closely with your own.

The next step is to invite agencies to send you a written proposal, although we would always encourage organisations to arrange face-to-face meetings too, to judge chemistry and allow a more free-ranging conversation about what it is they’re looking for. Remember, the more information you share, the more accurately the results will reflect your purposes.

Once you have considered all your options, you might invite the best-suited agencies to pitch – or present – their ideas and discuss how they’d go about working with you.

If you decide to invite agencies to pitch, you will need to:

Make sure you give plenty of notice so that agencies can research and develop proposals outlining the best possible ideas for you. Be available to answer questions while agencies prepare their responses.

Make it clear what you expect to see in a presentation – do you want detail on all the elements of their proposal, with delivery plans, or do you want some big picture ideas to discuss with them, to get more of a feel for their creative approach?

When you meet agencies make sure they are all given an equal chance – so pay attention to how much time they are given and who is on your panel.

Schedule in time for questions and discussion with each agency you meet.

Look for ideas, ability and a team you can work with, rather than seeing proposals as a definitive project plan. A pitch is a presentation of what an agency might do for you, not a rigid manifesto. If an agency has the experience, flexibility and temperament to work with you effectively, plans can be finalised between you.

Be prepared to feed back to agencies after the process. They are likely to have invested a good deal of time in developing their pitch and will appreciate knowing how you reached your final decision.

We are always straight with clients from the outset, clear on what we can do and what we can’t do. Avoid agencies that over-promise during the pitch process!

A contract with a PR agency can be adapted to cover any length of time so you needn’t be tied in for long periods.

It is often best to work on a project basis, rather than agree a long-term retainer. And build in regular evaluation and review points.

If you have a procurement or legal department, they will want a hand in drawing up the contract. Otherwise, discuss the options with your agency – they will be happy to talk through the detail of their standard contract with you.

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