Many companies choose to hire a B2B PR agency because having a Head of Communications/PR is a luxury that few can afford. Once an agency has been appointed the management of the relationship will often fall to a Head of Sales, CEO or ideally a Marketing Manager. This approach can sometimes be successful – if the person overseeing the agency understands how PR works. Unfortunately, at other times, it can all too often end in disappointment for both the agency and the client.
Clients often think that hiring an agency will instantly result in coverage and a slew of interviews with their CEO. Unfortunately, this is not often the case as clients need to have something to talk about. A successful PR campaign requires companies to have a pipeline of news as well as content that they’ll push out. While a B2B PR agency can create a plan, if clients don’t have the internal capacity to gather materials, analyse their data, get insight from internal experts, review pieces of thought leadership or budget to have reports created, PR campaigns will suffer.
Companies that are successful at PR tend to have PR-minded CEOs who understand what is, and isn’t news. These businesses already generate coverage, because their CEO is at the right events and is ‘known’. If your CEO isn’t like that, or PR hasn’t been an area that you’ve focused on, we strongly advise you to listen to what an agency says and act on it.
PR, done well, requires time and effort. Top publications are not going to suddenly want to speak to a company that they’ve never heard of before. Making a big splash in a noisy world requires investment to breakthrough quickly. Without investment, PR can only build up over time, if companies have news to share. Without news or investment, PR will be pointless.
While working as an in-house PR person, many PR agencies used to contact me to try and win business. Time and time again, my response would be that we didn’t have enough of a pipeline of news to sustain working with an agency. Having started in a PR agency, I had witnessed the struggles when companies neither want to invest in activity or have an active news pipeline.
If you are going to be spending at least £4,000 a month in working with a PR agency, it’s vital that you’re doing so because you are open to their ideas, or have things to talk about. The unfortunate truth is that if you don’t have a news pipeline, then you’ll need to invest in the agency creating content for you to create the story. Content creation is largely going to be achieved through research or insight, and then you’ll need to pay for the content to be turned into formats such as e-books or blogs.
If you don’t have a news pipeline or the budget to invest in creating unique content, then it’s going to be more cost effective to hire a Marketing/PR specialist internally who can begin to start building your profile than it is to hire an agency. Sure, a PR agency will come with their contacts but those relationships are important to them. If you don’t have anything to offer, those contacts will only get you so far.
It’s only once the internal PR person, or indeed PR team becomes too busy to do a time-consuming activity such as media outreach, that you should start thinking about hiring an agency.
There are some exceptions to this though:
- You’re launching your company
It may be that you’re launching a company, or a new product and so have a limited window for news. Having someone in-house, on your books full time is usually going to be more expensive than working with an agency who can help with the piece of work.
It is unlikely that an ongoing retainer will be able to generate results for many companies after the initial launch if there is no immediate news.
- You have a big project launching
If there is a particular project launching, such as a new product or a piece of research that you’ve conducted, a PR agency can deliver value. This is especially true if you don’t usually do PR, or have an internal team.
It’s usually better to hire a PR agency for occasions like this because you can bring in the expertise of several people, and have a team of experts working on outcomes.
- You want to focus on stunt based activity or other engagement
Many PR campaigns run into challenges because they rely on companies internally providing data, or access to key spokespeople. If you want to make some noise – and are happy to hand over money to an agency to be creative – it’s possible to generate results that don’t require too much time internally.
- You need help with PR planning
PR planning sometimes requires an outside perspective and a team who can think about creative ways to engage with target audiences. A PR agency can be useful when working on a PR plan, as they will have industry insight and provide the perspective that’s often hard to see when inside a company.
There are plenty of other examples of where it’s possible to work with a PR agency, without having someone internally.
The biggest mistake that many companies make is thinking that they need to hire an agency to get results. The agency then goes and creates a plan, based on news announcements, content and other activity that the company then doesn’t want to go for – or fails to produce the information required. This nearly always ends in disaster, with the agency at a loss with a lack of PRable content or news and the client then feeling like they aren’t getting results.
Agencies then start scrambling to try and get results – which often means using up more time and energy.
While we do believe that campaigns work better when companies either have PR managers (or as a second option, PR-minded, hands-on, marketing managers or CEOs) there are exceptions to this rule. However, that exception tends to mean that companies are investing more for agencies to be able to get on with creating news and content on their behalf.
Without a doubt, the biggest benefit a PR agency can bring is perspective. It’s too easy for people internally at companies to get excited about what they perceive to be big news. PR agencies are good at being able to identify what is big news to an external audience, or how to shape news into being exciting.