While many traditional PR agencies were built upon the ability to generate editorial coverage (or publicity) through mainstream media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines), the leading digital/online PR firms are social-media and SEO savvy, with proven track records for generating website traffic, inbound links and leads.
In the social web, PR agencies are evolving into content publishers, connectors, educators and consultants.
Questions to Ask Your PR Firm
1) How active are the consultants/account managers and agency leaders in social networking, specifically LinkedIn and Twitter?
It is extremely important the lead strategist on your account, as well as the agency's leaders, be heavily engaged in social networking. If they're not, how can they possibly provide the strategy, creativity and consultation your business needs to succeed online?
The agency should have a strong Website Grade, which demonstrates their knowledge and capabilities in search engine optimization, social media and content marketing - all essential competencies of today's PR firm.
If the agency doesn't have a blog, just move on. Any PR agency that has yet to integrate a blog into their site is simply too far behind the times and most likely will not bring the value and results your business needs.
For agencies that do have blogs, make sure it's updated regularly (at least once per week) with content that is relevant to its readers, not just agency news and updates (which should be reserved for the media room).
Also, be sure the blog is hosted on their domain, and not someone else's (e.g. Blogspot, Typepad, etc.). Hosting it on another domain may imply they don't understand the search engine value of blogging and content marketing.
4) How do they measure success?
Agencies traditionally have used clippings, media impressions, advertising equivalency and PR value (which is basically an artificial multiple of ad equivalency) as a means of measuring success.
While generating media coverage offline and online is important, that coverage, at the end of the day, must deliver measureable results.
Concern yourself less with clippings and impressions and more with search engine rankings, inbound links, Website traffic, leads and sales. These metrics are how PR campaigns should be judged.
5) What are their core services?
Leading digital/online PR firms will most likely provide content marketing, social media consulting, blogging strategy, search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising, as well as evolved forms of publicity, brand marketing and crisis communications.
You must accept that your brand is now what Google and the social Web say it is, and your PR firm should be adept at protecting and strengthening your brand online.
6) What is their billing structure?
Focus on value and results. Your firm should be transparent when it comes to billing rates (or set prices if they are offered), and you should know exactly what services are being provided.
PR should generate an ROI. If a firm can't tell you how they measure and report their value to you, find a new one.
7) How strong and stable is the firm?
As with any outside provider, it is essential to evaluate the agency's leadership, client base and financial viability. Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions before entering into a relationship.
Do Your Homework
PR firms can be invaluable strategic partners as your organization moves beyond traditional marketing methods and navigates the social web, but make sure to do your homework and find an agency that has the knowledge, capabilities and staff to fit your needs and budgets.
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