Why Hire A PR Firm?

The nation’s economy may be in the tank, but Public Relations consultants are working, and billing, more than ever.

PR – A Booming Industry

A survey by the Council of Public Relations Firms showed 68% of responding PR agencies expect 2008 revenues to come in higher than 2007, which in turn were up 12.3% over 2006. The PR industry must be doing something right. 

PR consulting in 2007 was strongest for consumer products and services, healthcare and technology, in that order. What type of services were those industries buying? Half of the PR billings came from marketing communications, followed by corporate communications (26%) and public affairs (13%).  (Public affairs is basically lobbying, or influencing public opinion through third parties.)

Why Hire a PR Firm?

PR consultants are professional communicators. They can help you recognize challenges (today’s and tomorrow’s), develop plans to effectively deal with them, and implement those plans. As seen in the statistics above, half of all PR dollars are spent in support of marketing of products and services. In that regard, PR can help target your current and prospective customers, positively differentiate your offerings from the competition, and improve the way your sales pitch is heard and perceived.

A big difference between PR and advertising (which is paid placement) is that consumers of all types place greater credibility in PR messages than in paid ads. That’s largely because PR messages are delivered more subtly, often by third parties, such as reporters, columnists and other sources trusted by the target audience.

A good PR firm can improve your company’s image, attract allies to give your message greater appeal, avoid or defuse a crisis, and generally improve your bottom line. Services range from press releases and event management, to market research and nationwide lobbying. Interested in maximizing your Internet marketing opportunities? Talk to a PR firm specializing in web communications.

How Should You Choose a PR Firm?

Clearly, you want the best for the least. First, ask yourself some basic questions. How much do you intend to spend (monthly for on-going service, or in total for a specific project)? Are you targeting a local audience only, or doing something on a much greater regional, national or international scale? Then talk informally with a few local PR firms. Get their feedback on how realistic your objectives and budget are. If you think one of the local agencies can do the job, check out their reputation with their past clients, then invite them back for a detailed discussion and let them prepare a proposal. Unless you’re absolutely blown away by one firm, invite several to make proposals; you’ll be exposed to more creative ideas and be able to compare personnel, concepts and budgets in an apples-to-apples fashion. If you need a bigger firm or one with specialized services or greater experience with your industry, you can find a good match through the Public Relations Society of America or the Council of Public Relations Firms. Ask for a reference from companies in your field, or plug in key words and do a Google search.

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What to Expect from a PR Firm

Expect… No, demand the best! Don’t let your PR firm over-bill, substitute low-level staff after promising higher-level attention, or drag projects and deliverables way past agreed-upon deadlines. Insist on weekly or monthly activity reports, and demand detailed results reports. How many eyeballs did they draw to your website? How many newspapers carried your message? How many TV and radio appearances did the firm generate for your spokespeople? How did the PR initiative impact your sales? Results should be quantified and analyzed carefully. The best PR firms will give you a strong return on your investment.

A Place to Start

If you’re looking for PR firms with major global reputations, you might want to talk with the biggest:

APCO Worldwide www.apcoworldwide.com
Fleishman-Hillard www.fleishman.com
Golin/Harris International www.gollinharris.com
Hill & Knowlton www.hillandknowlton.com
Ketchum www.ketchum.com
Manning Selvage & Lee www.mslpr.com
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide www.ogilvypr.com
Porter Novelli www.porternovelli.com
Waggener Edstrom www.wagged.com
Weber Shandwick www.webershandwick.com

On a national level, the biggest independent PR firm in the U.S. is Edelman (www.edelman.com) with $400 million in 2007 worldwide fees and nearly 3000 employees. Waggener Edstrom (www.waggeneredstrom.com) of Washington State is second. Washington, DC’s APCO Worldwide (www.apcoworldwide.com) is third. Fourth is Ruder Finn Group (www.ruderfinn.com) headquartered in New York, and fifth is San Francisco technology PR firm Text 100 (www.text100.com). Sometimes a regional firm may be best for your needs. In the Southeast, for instance, the biggest independent firm is French/West/Vaughan (www.fwv-us.com). A Google search will help you find the biggest firms and those agencies with specialized focus, by region, state and city.





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