Defining your scope of work is critical when selecting any PR firm. Not only will it make your goals and objectives clear, but it will also help you determine if you are looking purely for public relations services or, perhaps, if you need marketing or digital services instead. Though the lines are blurring today on what PR and marketing firms offer, as a general rule it’s important to understand where you need the help: earned media/media relations (PR), writing (PR), sales materials (marketing), ad copy (marketing), website (PR & marketing), social media (PR), conferences/events (marketing), or email outreach (marketing), to name just a few.
If you are looking for a firm to improve your sales, you may be better off seeking a marketing firm. This nuance, too, is a cause of consternation for clients hiring agencies. PR will support
sales and marketing but its focus is principally on one-on-one communications in any form, and improving a company’s internal and external positioning.
Agency size is certainly a factor for the satisfaction of small businesses seeking PR. For example, perhaps a qualified independent practitioner is a wiser choice than a traditional brick-and-mortar agency. There are many qualified independents, with access to networks of other specialists for additional support, and they generally charge less than agencies. On the other hand, there are more and more specialized boutique agencies that may have expertise in your industry, and that offer the services you need. There are other times when larger firms can’t be overlooked because of the unique skills, long-term experience, and access to resources, skills and contacts that helped them grow to where they are today. Each will affect your budget differently, which is why planning and consideration are so critical to choosing the right firm for your organization.
There’s a wide market for public relations services, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Devoting the time to decide what you want, what you need, the budget you have, and the time and information you can provide, will dictate the level of your success. Keep this in mind: it’s definitely a worthwhile investment. But only if it's a two-way partnership.
For reference, there's a good overview of PR with a nice section for small businesses at the Encyclopedia of Small Business, which includes mention of the book "Public Relations for the Entrepreneur and the Growing Business" by Norman R. Sodeberg.
- Robert Udowitz