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How to Guide


How to best select a PR agency

How to best select a PR agency

By Richard Ellis, PRCA communications director.

So you’re looking for a PR consultancy? It can make a big difference to your organisation, adding skills, resource, a new perspective, contacts and creativity for example.

Choosing the right consultancy and making sure that they are well briefed is vital if you are going to have a successful relationship going forward. Some 80% of the time that goes into selecting a consultancy is likely to take place before you even meet your future potential partner. This time spent writing the brief and getting buy-in from internal decision makers is vital.

The brief

The brief not the first part of the pitch process but it is the most important part. It is the map for your entire journey and should contain:

1. Details of the project management include who will be involved in the project from your organisation and other agencies.

2. Where are we now?  - without understanding this it is hard to plan a route to…

3. Where do we want to be? Set measurable objectives that tie back to the marketing plan and corporate objectives.

4. What are we doing to get there? Tell the consultancy if PR is the only element of the campaign and specify other marketing activities in place. You should make clear in this section the nature and scope of the services that you are likely to need and inform the consultancy about any potential TUPE issues.

5.    Who are we targeting? You should share your insights into the target market. It will help the agency be as effective as possible – who knows they may even challenge you with insights of their own.

6. How will we know when we’ve arrived? Measurement. I don’t mean outputs ie the number of press releases or column inches. What is important are outcomes: ie increased calls to the helpline, awareness of the brand within a target market or sales. Tie this back to the objectives in point three and the overall business objectives.

7. Budgets and timings: consultancies need to know how many hours they can invest on your account.  If you put out the brief without an accurate budget then what the consultancies tell you they can do for you will be inaccurate. You should also include a timescale for both the project and the pitching process.

8. Get approvals: before the brief goes to the consultancies ensure all the decision makers have signed it off. Involve the CEO if they take an interest in PR or the IT if the campaign involves online elements. Make sure the marketing director has signed off the budget.

SO back to the beginning…

Spend time on the brief. It will save you and the agencies time in the long term and make the pitch more focused and valuable.

A recent survey of our members suggested that the minimum time they spend preparing a pitch is two and a half days going up to over 50 days for big projects. All this for a one in three chance of winning your brief.

Here’s how you can get the right agency without wasting your time of theirs:

What type of consultancy do you want – In the UK there is a huge choice of PR consultancies, each with its own personality and skill set. Narrow your choice through personal recommendations, identifying other campaigns you liked or working with a trade association.  The PRCA runs a free no-obligation service that can help (

Identify up to ten consultancies of interest - Most consultancieswill have a standard presentation that they will adapt to show relevant experience.  It will take them a few hours to prepare but will enable you to reduce the number of agencies you are interested in speaking to.

To help you further narrow the your search speak with a few of the consultancies to see whether there is “chemistry”. How well the personalities of the organisations and individuals fit is surprisingly important to the success of the project.

Before sending the overview of the brief, you may want to get the consultancies to sign a non-disclosure agreement or confidentiality agreement. This cuts both ways. If you ask the agency to pitch at a later date, any creative ideas should remain theirs.

There is a tendency, particularly in the public sector, to ask consultancies to complete a pre-qualification questionnaire. These are generally pointless and unbelievably time-consuming. Where they are absolutely necessary, make them as simple as possible.

The invitation to pitch

You should whittle your shortlist down to three agencies, plus if they have a genuine chance of winning the pitch, the incumbent. At this stage both parties should have signed an NDA and you should share the full brief (including budget) with the remaining agencies.

Asking more than three agencies to pitch wastes both your time and theirs.

While they will want to invest time preparing your pitch, they will have commitments for existing clients, so asking them to turn a pitch around in a week just isn’t realistic.

Put in place a realistic timeframe and specify the criteria the pitches will be judged on ie creativity, planning, ability to connect with target audiences. The brief should also contain the basic contractual terms, ie a Head’s of Terms agreement including budget, basic remuneration and IP ownership.

Before the pitch it is often helpful to provide the consultancies with an opportunity to quiz you verbally about the brief. This will enable them to get a better steer on what you are looking for.

The pitch

Make sure all the decision makers are present for each of the pitches and let the consultancies know who they are, their job titles and responsibilities. For you this is an opportunity to make sure that those pitching for the business will be those working on it.

Within a week of the pitch you should appoint the winning agency and having agreed terms with them you should notify the unsuccessful agencies and offer them feedback.

Making your life easier

The process of finding the right agency can be a time consuming one. The PRCA offers a free, no obligation service, helping you with your brief and helping you identify the most relevant agencies.  More information can be found at

We have also co-authored a series of guides that will help you with your search for the right agency (from which much of this article is adapted). The guides can be found at:

Copyright PRCA 2010.

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