Tuesday, June 12, 2012

If you are looking to hire a PR firm, you will likely get proposals from dozens of contenders that claim they are the best choice. So how do you differentiate among public relations firms? Evan Weisel, Principal & Co-Founder, Welz & Weisel Communications, writes in BIZ Builder Magazine, June 2012 that the decision should come down to whether the agency exhibits strong grounding with respect to six, essential qualities:

1. Retention
You don’t hire employees expecting them to stay less than a year. So why would you want to bring on a firm that can’t keep a client for any longer? Let’s face it: If a firm has a history of accounts that turn over within 12 months that is a negative “churn and burn” rate you don’t want. What you need is a long-term, strategic partner, not a firm that promises the moon to prospective clients in hopes of landing them and then promptly drops the ball. Clients may not stick around for decades – agreements end for many reasons that have nothing to do with performance issues. But, you do certainly want to see continuity within the client roster, as opposed to a revolving-door situation.
  • At Garden Media, we also feel long term relationships are important. The longer we work with a client, the more "brand equity" we build with the media for that client. We have enjoyed many relationships that have lasted for more than 10 years. Our goal is to exceed expectations and build lasting partnerships.

2. Results

Clients regularly appear in major publications like Better Homes & Gardens, reaching millions of gardeners.In the end, it’s all about results. However, seek results that are both quantifiable and qualitative, with demonstrated ROI. Getting ink and visibility in places that your customers do not read or visit is worthless. The value for a company is visibility in front of the right audience – prospective buyers. Ultimately, a solid and respected public relations firm will deliver impactful results that help your organization’s brand and bottom line – both in numbers and quality.

  • Couldn't agree more. Getting the results our clients want and need are our passion. We are very goal driven at Garden Media. Because we specialize in the lawn & garden industry, we have the ear of most of the key influencers in both trade and consumer garden media. It helps us fast track our clients to get the results they want.
3. Staff
Get to know the public relations team members who will work your account. Are there enough senior members on board? Or, is the firm attempting to assign mainly junior members to you? While we employ many junior staffers at our firm, they’re part of a team managed by seasoned professionals, who came to us with proven track records. Watch out for the “Bait and switch” – meaning ask for the team that will work on the account to be in the pitch meeting. Too often in our industry firm’s bring in senior talent and replace them with junior staffers.GMG Team

Insist before signing on with a firm that all or most team members meet with you to gain insight into their backgrounds, especially related to your industry sector. Another important detail to ask prospective firms: How long do people stay at the firm? You certainly don’t want a constant flow of new team members working on your campaigns that cost extra time and money to bring them up to speed on your account.
  • At Garden Media, we work as a team and often pull the entire staff in to brainstorm or take on special tasks to get the job done. All accounts are managed by senior staff members. We are fortunate to be a place where people like to work so they tend to stick around. Our senior account manager has been with the firm for almost 15 years.
4. Track Record/Experience
Does the public relations firm have experience serving clients within your industry? Do they know your market sector (consumer, technology, healthcare, etc.)? Don’t be fooled with a proposal around the false idea that “Public Relations rules apply across the board, regardless of a client’s particular industry sector …” because every sector is very different and this type of thinking only leads to a cookie-cutter approach, or worse, not getting results. For example, if your company is looking to sell into the government, does the firm you are looking to hire understand the nuances of this very unique sector?

Think about it: When you’re going out to eat, do you pick restaurants that have Thai, Mexican and Italian food on the menu? I hope not. That would speak to a kitchen attempting to please too many diverging palates. Similarly, every industry sector is totally different so expertise in your industry is valuable. Hire public relations professionals who really understand how to execute a messaging strategy for your business category.
  • describe the imageGardening and outdoor living are our speciality, our niche. That's all we do. Having worked in this field for almost 20 years, we have our finger on the pulse of the industry and know who the movers and shakers are - and they know us. It lets us open lots of doors for our clients. We've represented some of the giants in the industry and lauched some rock stars like The Knock Out Family of Roses and Endless Summer hydrangeas. This is where Garden Media Group stands out first among the crowd. Our Garden Trends Report, first published in 2001, is one of the most widely read reports in the industry
5. Services
Any agency worth its retainer should offer a broad range of services. No one can afford to be one dimensional in today’s environment so the best candidate should demonstrate strong performance levels in deploying integrated programs that include traditional public relations (press releases, media pitches, award nominations, guest editorials, etc.), social-media strategies, content development, and thought leadership activities.

A public relations campaign can take shape in the form of Twitter feeds, blogs, podcasts, webinars, white papers, bylined articles, case studies, contests, trade show appearances, speaking engagements and/or mega-media events, among other formats. All require a public relations professional who understands how to integrate these multiple platforms.

Also, it is important to note that it is not enough for a public relations person to know how to utilize both traditional and digital media. A true professional can skillfully weave the right messaging within so the resulting media reporting is on-point and elevates corporate executives quoted as high-profile experts/thought leaders. Any young public relations firm employee can send a tweet, for example but it takes a combination of written-word skills and modern-media savvy to transform the tweet into an outlet for optimal messaging.
  • Agree again. We believe anyone can write a press release. At Garden Media we build our clients' reputations with strategic public relations tactics. From introducing them to all the right people to hosting Twitter chats, we integrate a variety of tools across as many platforms as needed to get the job done and meet the client's objectives.
6. Creativity
Garden Media Group created the O2 for You campaign for Costa Farms to promote the benefits of houseplants. It's been up running since 2009.We like to point out that most public relations firms offer the same basic core services. What separates great firms from good firms is creativity – coming up with programs that are memorable and set your company apart. The biggest “hits” we have generated for our clients through the years have come from proactive, thought-provoking campaigns that we created from scratch. Have the agency provide examples and case studies of their creative programs.

  • From helping define brand positioning and key messaging to creating award winning campaigns, Garden Media shines with creative juices. We know how to make our clients stand out from the crowd whether it's a full blown campaign, sample program or a pitch letter. We know how to find what we call the golden nugget. Just check out O2 for You for a sample of how we create campaigns that  work for years.

It is not easy finding the right firm but hopefully we can agree that these are six key traits to consider before signing on the dotted line.


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