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Evaluate Your PR Firm

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on February 9, 2011

You’re an entrepreneur. You have an idea that creates a new social media category, redefines philanthropy, or transforms social sharing for mobile commerce. You believe support from a PR firm to help tell your story will significantly grow your business.

Yet it doesn’t work out. Months later, traffic is low, user acquisition worse, and you’ve squandered crucial cash. You fire your agency and start another search.

So what happened? Did a bunch of worthless charlatans play you for a fool? Or was it something else? To make the right choice the second time around, ask a few tough questions.

Let’s start with you:

1. Can you prove it? A new concept is great, but for a sustained campaign, you need proof points—clients, trends, an opinion to share when news breaks in your category, aggregated data—that show what you’re doing is worth covering again and again.

2. Were you counting on PR to generate leads? Sorry to say but there is not always a correlation between a great placement and short-term ROI. Make sure you understand the benefits of PR, and that they match your immediate and long-term needs.

3. Did the firm fail to get hits for the company—or did it fail to get hits for your ego? Seeing your name in the press can be a thrill, but be sure it’s not clouding your priorities or judgment.

Now, as for your former (or soon-to-be-former) agency:

1. Did it clearly set expectations? Every good firm should help you define what’s doable, what’s not, why certain targets make more sense than others, and how much volume to expect each week, month, quarter.

2. Did it create a plan? If your PR firm wasn’t working steadily within the agreed-upon strategy and calendar, it’s not surprising you felt unanchored.

3. Was it immersed in your field? To tell good stories, a PR firm must have the fullest possible understanding of your world. If not, it can miss opportunities and, sometimes, seriously irritate a reporter.

Before you make your next move, take a hard look at what agencies can actually do and how you can best arm them to tell your story. It’s the only way to separate return on fantasy—how not to market your startup—from the real tough ROI choices you will need to make to succeed.

Mitch Stoller
Founding Partner
Group SJR
New York

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