12 Pieces of Advice when Hiring a PR Company

Your reputation is paramount to the success of your business, yet too many clubs don’t pay attention to it. The most organic way to generate a great long-lasting reputation—beyond word of mouth, which is free—is to hire a public relations (PR) firm, but how do you go about it? Nightclub & Bar asked a number of PR professionals what you need to be aware of when hiring:

  1. Beware of bait and switch. Often a PR firm sends in the big guns to win the account and after you hire them, assign low level staff to your account. - Susan M. Tellem, senior partner, Tellem Grody PR, Inc.
  2. Remember success in terms of PR takes months, if not years. Investing in PR is paying to position your brand. Over the course of time you build brand equity and awareness. There will be short term successes but it is the long term investment that counts. - Bill Corbett, Jr., president, Corbett Public Relations, Inc.
  3. An agency should come to you with ideas, not the other way around. - Andy Lavin, president, A. Lavin Communications
  4. You want to work with publicists who have great relationships with the media and are respected by them, so find out who journalists recommend. - Liz Morgan, founder, Liz Morgan PR
  5. Match your brand to that of the agency. Is your brand sophisticated, mature and upscale? PR executives will understand your brand better if you align. - Kevin Sangsland, founder and principal, Anura Strategies
  6. Because of the inherent risks in a business that makes money from selling alcohol, clubs should always have a crisis communications plan. Most businesses wait until an indiscretion occurs to reach out to a PR firm for a crisis communications plan, but a proactive plan will explore how your bar can avoid indiscretions that will hinder brand reputation. - Gema Mora, president, Kinksgem PR
  7. Ask how they charge: do they require a long-term contract, or will they do the work on a project basis? Can they work with you on even a small, one-off project? You want to be careful not to get locked into too long of a contract (more than six months) if you’ve never used a PR agency before. - Gary Frisch, founder, Swordfish Communications
  8. A good deal of your PR will be generated through social media. Find out if they’ve created social media campaigns, and who would administer social media feeds—you or the agency. - Gary Frisch, founder, Swordfish Communications
  9. Ask about measurables: how does the agency quantify success? Typically, results might be measured in audience impressions, advertising value, visits to your website and/or social media pages, and ultimately, bottom-line receipts. - Gary Frisch, founder, Swordfish Communications
  10. A successful campaign is a two-way street, requiring the input of both parties. Don’t hire an agency expecting it to be “plug and play” with no input from you. You need to designate one employee—perhaps yourself—to liaise with the agency account person on an ongoing basis, to provide information about your bar’s initiatives, to suggest ideas, and to review and approve materials. - Gary Frisch, founder, Swordfish Communications
  11. Look out for agencies that are unwilling to offer client references, or aren’t forthcoming with samples of their results for other clients. Avoid an agency that is brand new, or doesn’t have a decent website. Delve deeper if the PR rep’s email has “hotmail” “gmail” or “yahoo” in the address. Think twice about hiring an agency that doesn’t return your phone calls or e-mails within a couple of hours. And watch out for an agency that demands payment in full before starting work. - Gary Frisch, founder, Swordfish Communications
  12. Two common mistakes are expecting an agency to do it alone, without any time or input on your part, and expecting the media to run stories about your establishment simply because you are sending them. Paying an agency doesn’t guarantee results, let alone instant results. If you want guaranteed placement, buy advertising. If you want to build credibility and enhance reputation, PR is the way to go precisely because nothing is guaranteed and your news must stand on its merits. - Gary Frisch, founder, Swordfish Communications

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