How to choose a PR agency

Posted on: January 13th, 2009

Public Relations is unfortunately still one of those professions that I find myself constantly having to explain to people at dinner parties, in taxis, to my grandma (I have tried many times to no avail!).  So if you are a PR virgin and looking for an agency, what should you really be looking for?  If it is your first time wandering into the wilderness, take a moment to read on to gain more of an insight into what we do and how to start the process of selecting an agency.

Size – does size really matter?

  • Budget, size and length of the project will determine the size of agency you need from a small boutique agency to a large international consultancy.
  • Unless you already have an agency in mind, it is worth meeting with at least two or three to get a feel for what they do and how they would work alongside you and your team.

Relevant experience

  • Both the agency’s background and relevant experience will give you a good indication of whether they will be suitable for you or not. For example, if you are a travel agent it would be advisable to look for an agency that has experience in the travel, leisure or hospitality industries. That said, you may already have great contacts with the travel media and be looking for an agency that can broaden your reach into news or mass media and who can look at your brand with a fresh pair of eyes.
  • There are specific agencies that focus on just one sector e.g. travel, or those who work across a broader spectrum of clients and can help you reach a wider market. It is up to you which you think would be most relevant for your needs.

Other clients

  • It is important when researching an agency to find out who their other clients are. This is not just to gauge their relevant experience, but also to check that there is no conflict of interest with your brand.
  • It is always worth investigating how long the agency has had each client as high retention is a great selling point. Most agencies would be happy for you to speak to their existing clients to gain a reference if required.


  • Are you looking for an agency close to home so you can pop around to their office for meetings/coffee/gossip, or would you prefer an agency that has offices in every major city or country? The answer to this really depends again on the size and scope of your campaign.


  • Does the agency belong to a professional body such as the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA)? If they do then it shows that they are a recognised company that has to abide by a code of conduct and ethics. Check out the PRIA website for more info.

The team

  • When speaking with a new agency it is a good idea to get them to commit (if they can) to telling you who the team on your account would be. This helps you to get an idea of their relevant experience and whether you fit with these people both on a professional and personal level. At the end of the day, you will need to speak with these people on a regular basis so you need to get along!
  • As a rule, most accounts will have a senior person (General Manager or Account Director) to oversee everything with a Senior Account Manager/Account Manager to do the strategic work and a Senior Account Executive/Account Executive to carry out the day to day work.


  • Your budget for the campaign will always determine the type of agency you can approach. For example, if you have a limited budget you would be best off with a smaller agency because as a rule they have lower fees and will be more accommodating to a lesser budget.
  • PR campaigns can be charged in two ways – either on a full time retainer which would be a set fee per month, or an hourly fee for a shorter project. The way in which an agency wishes to bill may also help you to make a decision.
  • In addition to the PR fees, all agencies also charge disbursements or expenses, which cover things like taxis to meetings, photocopying and telephone calls.

What next?

  • Once you have chosen one or more agencies you think you would like to work with, contact them to set up a face-to-face meeting to discuss your requirements and to see how you connect.
  • Following the initial meeting and if you are keen, send the agency a detailed brief giving all the information about the campaign including budget, time frames and deliverables. The agency will then go away and work up a pitch to present back to you. If you are happy with what they have presented then sign on the dotted line!

For further reading, check out the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (UK) website about their tips on how to choose an agency.

If you have anything to add or have any interesting stories about choosing an agency, we’d love to hear them.

Post by Helen Lear


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