It can be hard to work out what you’re looking for when you decide to venture forth into the murky world of PR. Before you know it you’re spending thousands every month for someone to seemingly throw hot air up into the universe and you’re not entirely sure what you’re getting in return.
So, let’s look at your options and the skills of different people in the PR world.
First, the CIPR sets out the skills a good PR person should have:
- An interest in what’s going on around them
- Good verbal communication skills
- Good written communication skills
- A good level of organisation and planning
- An interest in all forms of media
It also states that they should have an ability to:
- cope well under pressure
- analyse management needs and advise accordingly
- identify causes of problems, analyse future trends and predict their consequences
- research into public opinion, attitudes and expectations and advise on necessary action
- monitor and follow up
- set goals and objectives
- motivate and influence others
- work effectively with journalists
- identify major social issues affecting organisations
- establish financial control
Ok. So we’re looking for a super-human!
The next thing to consider – before even than the actual role they might have – is their experience. The biggest mistake law firms make, in our opinion, is jumping straight to a PR agency with legal sector expertise. Yes, of course, having an agency that understands YOU is important. But if you’re trying to get your name into the technology press, why would you pick someone with expertise of the legal market? Surely it’s better to pick one that knows your target audiences? Do you research both at an organisational and individual level. Make sure they’re up to date on any key trends and issues.
PR expertise tends to fall into the following categories:
- Publicity – brand awareness and generally getting your message out
- Press – specific media relationships and pitching articles
- Copywriting – writing press releases, social media and articles
- Digital PR – digital content production and sharing with SEO in mind
- Social media – building and sharing a culture of content engagement and sharing
- Spokesperson – being the face of your brand, handling tricky interviews etc
- Training – training your people to do any or all of the above
Types of PR person
- The agency – an agency will be a group of people, usually of varying seniority, providing services to more than one client. You may have one dedicated professional working for you but you’re far more likely to have a team, including both senior and junior people as well as those responsible for the management of their relationship with you.
- The consultant – rather like an agency (in that they’ll work for more than one client) a consultant will be one person working for you, rather than a team.
- The in-house professional – a PR professional employed by you and working, exclusively for your organisation.
Should you go with an agency or employ someone?
This question can often be answered by budget, but if we pretend, for a moment, that you have bottomless pockets, how can you decide what it is you need and want?
Hiring a consultant offers you experience and creativity as well as someone used to juggling complicated workloads and advising organisations like yours. They should also have strong and established media connections. Consultants are often very good at working ‘within’ your organisation and building strong one-to-one relationships with partners and marketing teams. Often partners will be more willing to listen to a consultant than an in-house person. They’re often, also, more cost effective than an agency. However, the best consultants can be very busy and unable to dedicate the amount of time you want/need.
Hiring an agency should give you all of the above, as well as a team to support the project and workload. You’ll be able to benefit from the thinking of more than one person and many of them will be real experts in their field. They’ll also have experience drawn from working with other organisations both like yours and different. And they can bring in junior support to help as needed. But agencies can be expensive and less flexible than a consultant. It’s also harder for partners to develop one-to-one relationships with a group of people.
A quick look at the jobs pages will tell you that hiring an in-house person doesn’t come cheap. The benefit, however, is that they are exclusively yours. The downside is that working in-house can make it hard to stay on top of market developments and innovation… and that, coupled with a big price ticket, can make it a bitter pill to swallow.
How do you decide what you want and need?
We think there are a number of key questions to ask, when discussing this. Their answers will set out a fairly clear decision as to the right path for you.
- What are your objectives? Print, digital etc
- Is this a short-term project or ongoing work? A short-term project would better suit a consultant or agency.
- What budget is available? A low budget might count out employing someone or an agency.
- Who are the key stakeholders and what sort of relationship do THEY need? Do they need one-to-one, training or on-site support?
- What sort of relationship do YOU want? Do you want them to ‘just get on with it’ or ‘be part of your team’?
- What target audiences do you have? Do you need a digital specialist or someone in print? What sectors are you targeting?
- What skills do you already have? Are you able to do copywriting, SEO and social media or do you need an all-round team?
- How will you measure success?