Christine Haas is a veteran news anchor and investigative reporter. She is the owner of Christine Haas Media, a public relations firm.
Thinking of hiring a PR firm to promote your brand? Don’t assume they’re all the same. All too often, I see fabulous brands choosing PR firms that are either unqualified or ill-suited to their needs, all because they don’t know the red flags to watch for.
With nearly two decades in the business as both a journalist and the CEO of Christine Haas Media, I’ve narrowed down seven warning signs that hint that a PR firm is probably not a good fit for your business. When you interview the next one, make sure they pass these tests before signing on their dotted line.
1. They don’t understand how a newsroom works. When I was a news anchor on TV, big PR firms would hire me as a consultant to ensure they were making the right moves to get press attention for their clients. I was shocked at how often they weren’t.
Again and again, the PR firms that hired me made basic mistakes that proved they were unfamiliar with how a newsroom works. What these firms didn’t understand is that a journalist needs to see potential story value in a pitch or press release — such as an interesting angle, hook, relevance and timeliness. These are basic things any reporter would know, but not every PR firm does.
How will you know whether or not a PR firm has journalistic chops? Ask if they have any current or former journalists on staff. That’s not a stretch, as many journalists transition over to PR or marketing after getting their start as reporters. If the PR firm you’re considering doesn’t have any former media people on staff, keep looking until you find one that does.
2. They think press releases turn into news stories. In a newsroom, most press releases end up in the garbage. When a release is well-written, includes a hook and an angle, and the content is interesting and relevant to the media outlet’s audience, it might turn into a story if the media outlet has room that it needs to fill.
If press releases are part of your package at a PR firm, that’s fine, but make sure you ask what the firm intends to accomplish with them. Most of the time, press releases are only good for SEO. If your PR firm thinks press releases will get you actual news coverage, that’s a red flag.
3. They don’t have experience in your industry. Just like you wouldn’t go to a dentist to get your appendix out, you typically wouldn’t want to work with a PR firm that hasn’t seen success in your industry. Each industry has its own set of contacts, protocols and tactics. If a PR firm isn’t familiar with them, it’s going to be tough to get your brand the attention it deserves.
When interviewing PR firms, ask for case studies and reports that show success in your specific niche. If the firm you’re considering hasn’t worked with other clients in your field before, you may want to keep looking.
4. They’ve got tons of awards you’ve never heard of. Unfortunately, many industry awards are simply money-making schemes in which firms pay to “win” so they can plaster their marketing materials with award banners.
When looking into a PR firm that touts its many accolades, do your research. Make sure their awards are earned, not bought. Any PR firm worth its salt doesn’t need to pay for awards. If you find any dubious awards on the firm’s website or marketing materials, ask yourself, “Do I want to work with someone who would misrepresent their reputation to get business?”
5. They don’t show results in black and white. While a new firm may not yet have a file full of excellent case studies, any PR firm that’s been in business for a while should be happy to show you exactly how they’ve brought success to their clients.
Ask for case studies and testimonials to judge the performance of the PR firm you’re considering. Case studies and testimonials are proof of action, and any good PR firm should have lots of them. Make sure you can see documentation of consistently good results including proof of ROI, interaction on social media, ad impressions, etc. within your industry.
6. They don’t have the right contacts. Each industry has its own unique collection of contacts and media outlets that serve that niche. Ask which industry contacts your PR firm regularly taps into to gain exposure for clients.
Contacts don’t always mean placements, but having good contacts in your industry shows that the firm is knowledgeable and connected in your niche.
7. They don’t offer guarantees. A PR firm that is positive it can produce good results for you should offer guarantees about its performance.
In my firm, I only take clients that I know I can win with, because I know that taking on clients I’m unsure about creates a lot of stress for me, and if the results aren’t there, a lot of frustration for the client, too. Because I’m selective with who I work with, I’m also able to offer guarantees. I guarantee certain results because I know I can achieve them.
Look for similar guarantees with any PR firms you are considering. Not only will these guarantees set expectations, but they’ll show you that the firm stands behind its performance, too.
Doing Due Diligence Is Worth The Time
If you were expecting to find the perfect PR firm without a lot of work on your end, you may find this article a bit disheartening. But the due diligence you do now will be well worth it in the end. When you find a PR firm that knows your industry, understands the media world, and delivers great results, every minute you spend in the research and interview phase will be time well spent.