Deciding it is time to use a PR firm, or exploring the market to check your current provider is still giving you great service, can seem like a big step. So here are a few tips to ease the pain.

1 Find out who their clients are and what they have achieved for them
Find out as much as you can about the PR company you’re thinking of working with. Ask who their current and past clients are and find out if they have experience of working in your sector. Ask what results they achieved and see if the same people will be working on your account.
2 Know your target audience and find out how your PR firm will reach them
PR uses many mediums, from traditional platforms such as newspapers and magazines, and increasingly on social media and the internet. A good PR company will have knowledge of all media and be able to advise on which are the best ones to reach your audience.
3 Check who will be looking after you on a day-to-day basis
You’ll often find that the top people in the firm pitch for your business, but you’ll be working with someone further down the chain on a day-to-day basis. Make sure you meet – and like – these people too.
4 Find out how they will communicate with you
Find out how often you will have meetings or conference calls and whether someone is available out-of-hours if you have an emergency.
5 Ask what input will be required from you
You can’t expect to instruct a PR company and leave the rest to them. You will need to supply information, hold regular meetings and be available at short notice for media interviews.
6 Look into how they measure success
Ask what markers they have in place to measure whether a campaign is successful. All media output, whether online or offline, should be evaluated for the outcomes it brings about. And outcomes should be evaluated against goals. Measurement must be transparent and easy to understand.
7 Check how strong their social media offer is
It’s highly likely that social media will play a part in communicating with your audience. Make sure your PR firm is up to speed with all the main social media channels and ask them how they have promoted other companies they’ve worked for.
8 Can they train you if you have to face the media?
You will not come across well during an interview if you are nervous and inexperienced. A good PR firm will be able to give you training on how to perform in an interview.
9 Make sure you know the true cost to you
Once you have decided on your budget, there are normally two options for a PR campaign – either a set fee for the duration of the project, or a retainer which is paid on a monthly basis. Ask the firm to give you an overview of what they can offer and what you get for it.
10 Don’t get tied into a lengthy contract
If you do choose to go onto a retainer, make sure you can review this after three months once you’ve seen how things are progressing. Don’t get tied into a lengthy contract you can’t get out of.

Tim Cobb started his career as a journalist, working in the local, regional and national media. In 1995 he moved into the world of PR and now runs a successful south coast agency. He is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and is regularly asked to judge national industry awards.