Silicon Valley PR Agency ChecklistWe recently met with a prospective new client whose motivation to look for a replacement agency stemmed from the fact that they hadn’t heard from the principals of the company in literally months.  After sending in the “A” team to secure the business, the senior members left the client in the hands of an account executive who—after spending over a year on the account—evidently had no clue about the client’s underlying technology, let alone the ability to convincingly advocate the value proposition in a way that mattered to the media and analyst communities.  Sound familiar?

Bait and switch practices are hardly new and PR agencies are not alone.  The service industry at large is often guilty of this approach in an effort to maximize margins, especially if a client’s budget is perceived to be too small.  It’s a slippery slope because hand-in-hand with this model goes the strategy of loading up junior resources with three, four or even five accounts, which often have no synergy between them.  This typically means that your point PR person—your voice to critical external constituencies—provides little or no value at the point of contact.  This is one of the reasons that many journalists scorn PR folks.

This brings up the age-old question about the pros and cons of working with so-called “national” agencies vs. “boutique” consultancies.  Some clients are drawn to large agencies out of a belief that critical mass will work to their advantage.  The flip side is clients that prefer very flat organizations that take on fewer clients in order to have greater access to more senior account teams.  Regardless of which way you may be leaning, consider this “PR agency selection Top 10 checklist:”

  1. Will senior members of the agency be working directly on my account?  If so, what percentage of the time?
  2. Do the members of the account team have relevant experience and working knowledge of a client’s market?
  3. Does the agency have demonstrable skills in articulating a client’s value proposition creatively through compelling and credible campaigns capable of triggering “company-to-watch” status?
  4. Can the agency provide value-added writing services, or will the client have to spoon feed the account team with content?
  5. Does the agency understand the necessity of blending and executing traditional PR and social media best practices?
  6. Does the agency have the skills and track record of taking venture-backed companies out of stealth mode (if applicable to your company’s needs)?
  7. Do client, media and analyst reference checks pan out?
  8. Are performance metrics realistic and attainable relative to a client’s budget?
  9. Is the agency capable of playing devil’s advocate to the benefit of the client?
  10. Does the agency tailor its pitches for each media contact and have a full understanding of that contact’s interests?  Are they conversant with his or her latest articles/blogs?

To achieve maximum ROI from your PR agency relationship, make certain that you’re not just glad-handing with the principals.  Their fingerprints should be all over your PR strategy and program execution.

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