Questions Top PR Firms Ask Their Clients

At the first meeting with your new PR firm, you may find yourself answering a lot of questions.  In the following post, our guest blogger, Lucy Siegel of Bridge Global Strategies, says there are five crucial questions you should be asked – and why they are important.

PR firms offering the highest quality of service ask their clients a lot of questions.  That’s the only way they can understand the best approaches to meeting their clients’ PR goals.

This blog post will focus on some of the questions a PR firm should be asking a client.  First, though, I want to emphasize that no questions should be off limits on either side.  We ask our clients a ton of questions in order to do our jobs as well as possible, and we expect and encourage clients to ask us anything they want to know.

1. What’s the background and history of your company, your founders and your CEO?  Some clients don’t understand why this question is relevant, especially when the assignment involves public relations for a product and not corporate PR for a company.

“Just focus on the product; you don’t need to be concerned with the company’s background,” some clients will say.  But PR involves piecing together a compelling story about a product or service that will resonate with the company’s various audiences (potential customers, communities, employees, suppliers, etc.).  Sometimes the story about the company can enhance the product story.

2. What are your goals for PR?  This question should always be asked by agencies and is crucial for starting any PR program.  Your goals may be simply to raise visibility as a precursor to brand building and sales.  Or you may be looking for a way to increase sales leads directly, to position the company in a new market, or address negative impressions of your company or product.  Getting media coverage, increasing the number of likes and followers, increasing the number of shares of company blog posts and articles, etc., are not goals for PR; they’re a means toward reaching the goal.

3. What do you picture as an ideal outcome of the work we’ll do?  Your answers to this question reveal a lot to your agency.  Sometimes company executives have unrealistic expectations about what PR can accomplish.  It may be highly unlikely that the PR team can get your product written about by the Wall Street Journal or any other top-tier media.  This is an issue that should be discussed at the beginning of a client-agency relationship because it’s very important for you to have realistic expectations about what to expect.  Unfortunately, some agencies deliberately mislead potential clients about their ability to deliver that type of outcome.

There may also be a disconnect between the outcomes you’re looking for and the goals you’ve expressed, which a good agency will point out and discuss with you.

4. Who, what, when, where, why and how?  These are the basics to any story, and the elements that public relations depends on.  They’re the questions journalists and bloggers will ask the PR agency staff working on your account and the focus of content marketing, social media and search engine optimization.  For example, here’s a vital “what” question:

  • What makes your product or your company different from your competitors’ products? If you’re looking for media coverage from your PR team, this is a crucial question.  The media is geared to gathering and reporting news.  If there’s nothing much to differentiate your product or company from others, it will probably be very difficult to get interest from the media in covering your story.  Other methods of PR may be more effective in those circumstances than media relations.

Just as parents think their own child is special, companies are often too close to their own stories to be objective.  Sometimes what the company feels is unique is really not a big enough difference from the competition to qualify as a true differentiation from a news viewpoint.  Trust the feedback your PR agency gives you.  The agency is able to be a lot more objective than your company’s staff, who are living and breathing your business day in and day out.

If a PR agency knows there isn’t a lot to differentiate you from the competition, the agency team can focus on creating news.  This can be done in many ways, including establishing new and different corporate initiatives within your community or for your employees, developing new data through a company-sponsored survey, or developing a news-making company-sponsored event.

For more on the definition of news (something that’s hard for many people to grasp), you may be interested in the this post I wrote some time ago, which directly addresses what the media consider to be newsworthy and what they don’t.

To better understand the challenges of getting media coverage in today’s media environment, you may also be interested in this blog post:

Clients must be forthcoming and honest in answering these basic questions, even if some of the answers don’t put the company in the best light.  If the agency doesn’t know the truth, all of the truth, it puts the agency’s PR team in a very bad position to work effectively.  Journalists will probe for answers and do research on their own.   If they’re given dishonest answers to their questions, they’ll think less of the company the agency is representing, as well as the PR agency people.

Sometimes internal corporate staff feel that it’s better for the PR agency not to know negative information so they won’t be able to spread it around.  But knowing honest answers doesn’t mean the agency PR team will provide that negative information to the media unless the client and agency have agreed that’s the best approach.  Some questions don’t have to be answered directly.  When a company just provides a rosy picture of the company and/or products, and leaves the PR team in the dark about the actual situation, it’s a recipe for PR failure.  One reason why:  the best approach for answering difficult questions from the media is to plan ahead for those difficult questions to come up and how to answer them.  PR professionals are well-prepared to help with those questions and answers, but can’t be helpful unless they know the whole truth, both negatives and positives.

5. What’s your budget?  This is a question that every PR firm should ask before preparing a proposal for you, and one that you should answer honestly.  Many potential clients tell us, “we don’t know what the budget is – we want you to tell us what we need to spend.”  What’s wrong with that picture?  The size of the budget will determine how fast your goals can be reached, and a PR program can be tailored to cover different levels of work.  An agency is put in a difficult position when that question goes unanswered.  If the agency makes an assumption that the budget is more than what the company can actually afford, it’s a waste of the agency’s time.  If the agency guesses on the low side, the proposal may not include as much PR activity as the client needs to meet PR goals.  Frequently we’re told, “Just give us a few different budget levels to choose from.”  That entails a lot of work with no compensation, all of which is in vain if the company decides on another agency or chooses not to move ahead with PR at all.  While developing proposals is part of the cost of doing business, asking for multiple proposals for the same project isn’t fair to PR agencies.

The reason many companies don’t like to reveal their budgets is the fear that they will be taken advantage of.  It’s a common corporate assumption that the agencies bidding on PR work will spend the maximum, whether it’s necessary or not.  However, in asking about budget, most agencies simply want to have information that will help them decide the type and scope of PR program that will work best given your budget.

Some of the questions PR firms ask clients and potential clients can only be answered by top management.  That’s one reason why PR professionals (internal and external) need access to clients’ top management executives.

Every company wants a top PR firm, one that can deliver results.  However, PR Professionals need a lot of information to be successful.

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Lucy Siegel is president and CEO of Bridge Global Strategies, based in New York City.

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