Companies generally consider PR agencies seeking outside help for their public relations needs, but independent PR consultants and coaches sometimes provide better options.
While not all PR agencies provide all services, agencies can typically manage the full range of PR services, such as media relations, content production, social media management, and media monitoring and measurement.
Businesses hire PR agencies to develop and implement strategy as a full extension of their team, like an outsourced PR department, explains Stephanie A. Smith, founder SASC, in a PR Couture blog post. They manage everything and involve the client only when they need their input or to respond to a media request.
A consultant, on the other hand, works short-term within the client’s organization as a team of one to provide advice. They may implement their advice or recommend other people to execute their recommendations, and may follow through to provide oversight and occasionally project and team management.
A PR coach also works within the client’s organization, offers recommendations on strategy, and helps implement those recommendations. A coach typically works directly with business leaders. For instance, media relations coaches help CEOs and other executives and spokespeople improve their media interview skills.
Some Firms Need Only Guidance
It’s best to match the businesses size with the size of the outside PR service. A larger corporation will likely prefer an established agency, but a small business may get a better price and results from a small agency or solo consultant.
“Not every business needs to have a PR firm or marketing agency on an annual retainer,” says Karolyn Raphael, president of Winger Marketing. “Very often, businesses simply need coaching and guidance to get the most out of their marketing staff.”
A PR coach, Raphael says, can help marketing staff develop the skills to think like a PR strategist, help them identify potential media angles, map out how to best promote content, and explain how to leverage amplification tools for their PR and marketing efforts.
Pros and Cons
PR agencies offer a broad range of services with experienced and capable personnel but usually cost more since they have higher overhead. They also have broad media contacts in multiple industries and experience in managing many types of PR programs. Independent publicists have a leaner business model, but typically have fewer contacts and influential relationships. They may also lack the broad-based experience of a PR agency.
PR agencies often mass blast email messages to thousands of journalists at a time in a spray-and-pray method that usually produces minimal results, says independent publicist Melissa A. Vitale, a former PR agency pro. They have multiple contacts with journalists but sometimes lack deep relationships. Freelance publicists, even those with extensive media lists, hand-pick journalists for media pitches, focus on communicating the client’s unique story, and rely on existing relationships with journalists.
Many PR agencies generally apply standard practices to all clients to keep employees on track as they work with multiple clients, Vitale says. Everything from new business proposals to pitches follows templates. Independent publicists are more likely to customize campaigns to different clients and communicate their unique stories to media outlets, she says.
While there may be some truth in that, most agencies would undoubtedly dispute that assessment.
Questions of PR Measurement
It’s essential for businesses to work with a PR agency or consultant that can meet their main goals. To determine if goals are met, clients and PR pros must agree on key PR metrics to track, and how the PR professionals will measure and report results.
“That way you and your PR team can understand what each piece of content does for you,” says Jennifer Hirsch, founder of Marked Point. “You replicate successes and kill failures — just as you would in any other aspect of your startup.”
Some PR agencies send pitches to bloggers and regional publications, in addition to major publications, in an attempt to show value. Some clients appreciate the additional media mentions; others don’t.
“Many startups don’t see the value in the smaller outlets, and freelancers don’t typically have time to cultivate them either,” Vitale says.
An advanced media monitoring and measurement service can accurately gauge the success of PR campaigns and report a range of PR measurement metrics.
Bottom Line: Independent PR consultants and PR coaches can sometimes meet the needs of some businesses better than PR agencies – and at more affordable costs. Whatever option businesses choose, it’s crucial to find a solution that aligns with the organization’s goals. It’s also important to use PR measurement tools to track PR effectiveness.
Michael Kling is manager of public relations, marketing and social media at Glean.info, a media monitoring and measurement service that provides customized media monitoring and PR analytics solutions.