For the types of business we specialise in at Waterfall PR - advertising, tech, consultants, design, TV etc - using PR isn't a given. Though we do see clients moving from other agencies to join us, many of the companies we take on are either using PR for the first time, or coming back to it after a break.
When we speak to prospective clients who are new to PR - or who have perhaps had bad experiences with PR in the past, there are a range of questions we ask - and a range of answers which raise red flags.
PR can be seen as the answer to a host of problems - but approaching PR without putting some essentials in place first can be worse than not using it at all. And in each case, there's absolutely no shame in not being ready to go - we're always happy to help and support willing clients until they get there.
So: are you thinking about using PR? Here are some of the questions I'll ask you - and why.
1. What are you hoping to achieve from PR?
If the answer is 'coverage' then we'll definitely need to have a gentle chat. Coverage, in and of itself, should never be the aim of PR. Coverage is one way that you can achieve your aims. But - talk to me about your business problems and challenges - and we can see how exactly these things might be tackled with PR in all its guises. Maybe you want to get more business, grow in certain areas, reduce your reliance on others, move into new markets, launch an amazing product, recruit, be better known for something great - or something else altogether. Even better is if you can talk to me about your business or marketing plan, and we can see how PR can support it and deliver results (not just coverage) that will actually give you what you need.
2. Why are you thinking of using PR?
Subtext: is it because you think you should, have a box to tick, or because someone has told you to do it?
Sometimes, these can be valid reasons. Maybe you're a big company with shareholders, a reputation to maintain or anticipate crises coming up which will require careful handling. But if none of these (or similar) issues apply, then I'd advise against starting with PR until you, and other decision makers, are convinced of the case for using it for yourselves. Otherwise, the process is a drag from the start. You feel like you're being forced into something you don't want, like or understand, and it's a struggle to maintain enthusiasm. PR can and should be fun and engaging (what an idea, I know - but ask our clients).
3. Who will be managing PR?
It's always great to have someone in house as your contact. But the process always falls down if information can only flow through one person, and everyone else feels that PR is 'not their job'. Setting up a strong information flow through a business, and working out the easiest way to do this - with as little inconvenience as possible for all involved - is absolutely vital. Involving a trusted expert PR in your business as closely as you are able will pay back big time. Good PRs will work hard to make sure this is easy for you.
4. Do you know your budget?
We really need to talk about this upfront. We're completely transparent with our costs (call us!) - but any agency will have a minimum level at which they can work with clients in order to give them a good service. If there's not even a rough budget, it's generally best to wait until you're able to work one out.
5. Do you have some sort of logo/website/organisational/booking glitches that will be 'ironed out' at some indeterminate point in the future?
Surprisingly common this one. Website redesigns are fine. But logos under legal review; websites that malfunction on their only job - we've seen it all. You could get all the PR under the sun, but if journalists and customers can't find or use your product, you are wasting money. Spend it on fixing the problem and give us a ring back - and we'll support you with anything you need in the meantime.
6. Are you willing to involve PR in your business - to let us discuss how we can feed your new business targets, to find the best stories from within your organisation - and to trust our advice?
There's a huge mistrust of 'PR people' in general in some businesses. That you can't trust them with your business information; that their job is to 'put stories out' and talk to journalists. That anything you give them will somehow find its way out there.
Well of course, this isn't true. There would be no PR industry if that was so.
The best PR just wants to understand your business, help you solve your challenges and deliver results. We are consultants and use tools to communication and build relations with the public; with your key buyers, influencers and more - aka 'PR'.
Some PRs are experts in certain areas (hi!) and some are generalists. But the best will help you, challenge you; share your passion for what you do and want to do the very best job they can.
And that starts with asking you these questions.