How to Select a Public Relations Firm

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Utilizing the services of a respected public relations agency can help an organization create, build, and protect its good name.

Because an organization's reputation and image are vital to its survival and success, the selection of that agency can be one of the most important decisions an organization can make.

To start, an organization must first determine what it wants to achieve. It must identify and prioritize its corporate goals. These goals will then become the basis for determining your public relations goals.



To identify the right PR firm for you, talk with peers, friends, business acquaintances, or fellow members of civic organizations to find out if they retain public relations counsel. If so, which ones? Are they happy with their performance? Would they recommend them?

You may also check with the Public Relations Society of America. Local chapters have directories of firms in their areas. Look for an agency that adheres to the PRSA's code of ethics and that has a strong commitment to the professionalism of its industry. Also, try to find an agency that's got a good track record. It is too important to get stuck with some fly-by-night operation.

After identifying the public relations firm for your initial screening, contact a principal at the firm by telephone or letter. Describe your organization and its public relations needs as you see them. Ask if they would be interested in talking with you. If so, check to make sure that they do not already represent a client that might cause a conflict of interest. Have a realistic budget in mind and be prepared to share that with your prospective agency. You'll also want to find out:
  • the firm's general background and any experience in your organization's area
  • its range of services
  • the depth of professional qualifications, such as accredited staff members, and organizational memberships, such as memberships with the PRSA, the International Association of Business Communicators, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and others.
Then, if you remain interested, visit the agency to meet your prospective account team. See where your account team works and take notice of the agency's atmosphere and environment.

Throughout the interview process, remember it is inappropriate to ask firms to undertake speculative work. However, you may ask for an outline of the scope of work the agency expects to provide. This should be flexible and something that both you and the agency agree on.

Once you've agreed to contract with an agency, the next step is to discuss fee arrangements and the initial length of the contract. The firm will then send you a signed letter of agreement outlining these terms.

If your organization wants its public relations firm to succeed, you must supply more than monetary support. You must approach the relationship as a partnership. Be prepared to help them help you. They cannot be expected to operate in a vacuum.

A successful relationship between a client and a public relations firm is based on these fundamentals: the best match of capabilities to needs, total agreement on objectives, constant accessibility, full information sharing, continuous interaction, regular program and progress reviews, and a clear understanding of contract responsibilities. Underlying all are mutual trust and respect. Assemble these components, and together you can build a strong, rewarding, and lasting business relationship.

About the Author:

Abbie S. Fink is Vice President and General Manager of HMA Public Relations. She has been with the firm since 1993. Her varied marketing-communications background includes skills in media relations, special-event management, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs, and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations.

Fink is a member of the Public Relations Society of America's Counselors Academy and has received awards from the PRSA, the Arizona Festivals and Events Association, the International Association of Business Communicators, and the City of Phoenix Mayor's Commission on Disability Affairs for her work in media relations and special-event management.

In addition, she has owned and operated an independent marketing-communications and event-management firm and spent two years as an account executive with the EvansGroup, where she worked on accounts such as The Phoenician, The Pointe Resorts, and The Crescent Hotel, to name a few.

Fink serves as HMA's primary media trainer. She has conducted training and media-familiarity sessions for such clients as the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Subway Restaurants, AeroMexico Airlines, the Arthritis Foundation, Einstein Bros. Bagels, KY-KO Roofing Systems, Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, Inlign Wealth Management, and Central Garden and Pet Company, to name a few.

Fink has both a master's degree in mass communications and a bachelor of arts degree in journalism/public relations from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication at Arizona State University. She has been an adjunct faculty member at the Center for the Advancement of Small Business at Arizona State University. A Scottsdale resident, Fink is a native of St. Paul, MN.
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