The fourth quarter is usually the time when many corporations look to hire a public relations agency. For first-timers, this can be a bewildering process. Below are seven suggestions on how to find a firm.

Tip 1 – Where to look. 

There is a plethora of firms and consultants from which to choose. Talk to business associates and networking contacts to get recommendations. Do you advertise? Talk with your rep, who can suggest PR agencies with whom she has worked. If you belong to a chamber of commerce, check out fellow members who specialize in public relations. A quick first step? Go to the PR Council’s “Find-A-Firm”, a comprehensive database of public relations firms that you can search for potential agencies.

Tip 2 – Determine budget

If you have a monthly budget of $1000 or less, it’s best to work with a consultant rather than a full-service agency. Boutique agencies typically charge around $5000 a month, plus expenses.Global firms can charge $25,000+ per month. Be upfront about how much you can truly spend. It saves everyone involved time and effort when you do.

Tip 3 – Establish PR goals. 

Do you want to the agency to generate media placements (and, if so, in trade publications or consumer outlets; print vs broadcast, etc); attain speaking engagements (ie, local or national; keynoter or featured panelist?); and/or position you as an industry thought-leader? Determining what you want public relations to accomplish is a necessary beginning step.

Tip 4 – Do your research. 

Just as you would do with a doctor or lawyer, research the PR provider before signing a contract. What kind of results have they delivered for current and past clients? Examine their websites and LinkedIn pages: do they showcase case histories, testimonials – in other words, third-party proof-points that support their stated skills and underscore their credibility.

Tip 5 – Conduct a chem check. 

I always say to potential clients that I do not consider myself their vendor. I am their partner, and hence, their success is my success. I always request an in-person meeting to see how well we’ll gel – or not. A successful relationship does involve personal interaction, and truly liking and respecting each other fosters a stronger working relationship.

Tip 6 – Get a public relations proposal. 

Every client should receive a plan that contains, at the minimum, an objective, strategy and tactics. A program is a roadmap, ensuring that expectations on both sides are in sync. An important point: the proposal is not written in cement. The business environment rarely remains static, and the proposal should allow for adjustments to ensure that objectives are met in a sometimes fluid market.

Tip 7 – Find out about professional services investment. 

While my firm is boutique-sized, I invest like a larger agency. So, similar to the Ketchums, Rubensteins and Edelmans of the world, I subscribe to PR services such as Cision and ProfNet, which cost thousands of dollars annually. These are *must-haves* that enable any agency, small or large, to provide the best possible access to media opportunities for their clients. I also invest in education, as the PR world is rapidly evolving, and knowing which tools, whether emerging or updated, are best for my client base is of critical importance to me.

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Jennefer Witter is the CEO/Founder of The Boreland Group Inc (TBG - www.theborelandgroup.com), a fourteen year old, New York City based public relations firm. TBG specializes in corporate and executive visibility.

For additional information on finding the right PR company, you can check out “The Little Book of Big PR: 100+ Quick Tips to Get Your Small Business Noticed” (AMACOM). An entire chapter, including a case history. is devoted to the topic. It’s available as an e-book and print on demand soft cover- https://www.amazon.com/Little-Book-Big-PR-Business/dp/0814436218.