Repairing the broken PR agency review process

Traditional client meetings and RFPs rarely reveal which agency is truly best for the task at hand. Here are some ways to get a truer picture.

The typical process that guides organizations in evaluating PR agencies and ultimately choosing one is broken.

It was broken when I participated in my first new business meeting—wicker furniture, of all things; we did not win—in 1983. It’s still broken today.

In the vast majority of PR agency reviews, the process puts a premium on showmanship and presentation skills, secondary traits when it comes to an agency’s ability to execute a campaign month after month after month.

What does completing an RFP that could double as a Ph.D. thesis really tell you about a given agency? In many agencies, the people who handle the RFP gauntlet have no relationship to the account team. As a result, the RFP often reveals little in predicting how an agency will do once it starts executing the program.

Organizations should not perceive “execution” as a commodity. Every agency is capable of handling a news event, but the list dwindles when it comes to driving results on an ongoing basis.

I sympathize with our corporate brothers and sisters who face down a fire hose of demands from stakeholders. While they intellectually recognize the importance of securing the right PR agency partner, finding the time for deep due diligence is another matter.

With this in mind, I believe that certain actions can help a prospective client gain a deeper understanding of an agency without consuming a ton of time. Here’s where to look:

Twitter feed: Is the content shaped to help communicators, marketers and the like, or does it shout “Me, me … and here’s more about me”? If an agency can’t display its own expertise and leadership, that doesn’t bode well for its clients. Media coverage: This falls under the category of making sure the cobbler’s kids have shoes. PR agencies who can generate a media footprint for themselves show that they a.) command media relations expertise, and b.) believe it’s important for brand building. LinkedIn profiles: It’s common to look at the LinkedIn profiles of the proposed account team members for their experience. But beyond that, it’s important to scrutinize how each account person tells his or her own story. The word “storyteller” now dominates the communications vernacular. But it’s one thing to say it and another to show it through one’s LinkedIn narrative. Mobile-friendliness: Buyers increasingly access information on mobile devices, which impacts the development of content. Plug the URL for your short-listed agencies into the Google Developer’s tool that tests whether a website is mobile-friendly

Onsite visit: This is the one the action that does require a chunk of time, but the payoff can be huge. Feel the vibe of the agency. Check out what’s on people’s desks. See the office structure. In short, an onsite visit goes a long way toward figuring out the client-agency fit.

Home page title tag: I figured I could slip in one nerdy action. Go to the agency’s home page, access the source code and examine the title tag. Does the agency waste this valuable real estate using only its name, or is there an SEO strategy in play?

I am not saying these six actions alone will enable companies to choose the perfect PR agency. There’s no substitute for spending time with the short-listed agencies, examining their relevant work and talking to their clients.

However, I do believe that these six actions in aggregate deliver cues that will round out your perspective of a given agency. Lou Hoffman is CEO of the Hoffman Agency a global communications consultancy. He blogs about storytelling in business at Ishmael’s Corner, where a version of this article originally appeared. (Image via)


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