The process for vetting a public relations firm and deciding if they are a fit is no easy task. It can be overwhelming with the vast amount of PR agencies all over the country, and especially for firms that have never hired an agency before, it’s daunting to figure out where to begin.

Starting your search with a plan and parameters on what to consider will make the process smoother and give you a clearer picture of the type of agency you should partner with. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach for PR agencies – from the size of the agency (boutique or global), to its specialties and core focus (B2B or B2C), location and pricing – these are all factors that you must consider.

To guide the way, we’ve identified a few parameters that are a MUST:

  • Define marketing and business development goals before you begin the search. This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but a PR agency is only successful if your firm knows what it wants to achieve and can articulate it. Without clearly defined marketing and business development goals, your PR strategy won’t go very far.

(Questions to ask yourself: Can you quantify goals? Is it bringing in five new clients or leads in a certain industry? Is it increasing your visibility in a certain market? Being quoted in a trade publication that reaches your target audience? Do you want to bolster a practice that is lacking or are you looking to break into a new practice? Do you want to grow staff? What does that growth look like?)

  • Determine what success looks like to you. Similar to the marketing and business development goals you identified, knowing what you deem a success is going to help you better understand what you need from a PR agency, and what they can do for you. Let’s be real though, saying you want to be on the cover of Oprah Magazine, but you’re an intellectual property lawyer, isn’t reasonable. Be realistic and targeted. If it’s still Oprah Magazine, a good PR agency is going to question that – why that magazine? Is that what your clients are reading? How will that contribute to your firm’s success?

(Questions to ask yourself: Is success seeing more traffic to your website? Is it seeing a steady stream of quotes in articles? Is it seeing an influx of leads after placing an article in a publication? Is it five new leads per month?)

  • Have a budget or a ballpark figure. This will narrow the playing field and give PR agencies a better sense of what they can reasonably provide. The more detail you can provide, the better. Having an idea of your budget can give a PR agency the opportunity to be creative and work within your price range.

If you’re not familiar with how much PR agencies typically charge for services, do some research on the average range of pricing and make sure you communicate this with the decision makers at your company. If a PR agency is priced incredibly high based on your budget, you can rule them out.

  • Do targeted research. A referral from colleagues is always a great place to start, but if you don’t have any agency recommendations, head to Google to search with a few keywords. Once you’ve identified a list of firms, look for strategic announcements where you can learn about initiatives, successes, new strategies and their own brand reputation. It’s important to consider how they handle their own PR. Once you do reach out, make sure you have a list of questions prepared. You should ask about previous clients, prior successes, reviews/testimonials, services they provide and what the onboarding process is like.
  • Make sure there is chemistry. As mentioned above, asking about an agency’s onboarding process gives you insight into how they communicate, get to know a new client, and if there is chemistry. Yes, having chemistry is very important. After all, a PR agency acts as an extension of your firm’s brand, so feeling like they understand who you are is important.