If you’re going to outsource public relations work to a PR consultant, it’s important to do your homework and properly vet the candidates. Here are seven questions you should ask along with what to look for in their answers.
Question #1: What are some recent “gets” that you’re particularly proud of? You want a person who does more than simply sends out a press release and calls up reporters. You want someone who knows how to engage with reporters/writers and leaders in the local community (PR is all about relationships). You want someone who thinks WAY beyond the traditional press release (which some might argue isn’t an effective way to land press these days anyway). You want someone who views public relations as a combination of ongoing efforts and who understands how to extend the shelf life of positive PR. You want someone who becomes super excited when she comes up with a great hook, runs with it, and gets awesome results.
What to look for in an answer: Listen for a good story. The consultant should be eager to tell you some positive press she landed for a client and how she capitalized on this press, extended its reach, and used it to drum up more business for her clients.
Question #2: What’s your process? You want to work with someone who does his or her due diligence and takes the time to get to know you, your business, and your industry.
What to look for in an answer: A savvy PR consultant will start with some sort of kick-off meeting that serves as a form of “discovery” where she gets to know you and your company. Even if the person has experience in your industry, he or she still needs to learn about what makes you and your business special. This takes time and research, something the person should embrace. From there, listen for how the consultant provides deliverables: will there be a written PR plan? A calendar? How involved will you need to be in each step?
Question #3: What makes an ideal pitch? PR consultants live and die by their pitches. They are (or should be) quite intimate with this subject and have a strong opinion on what makes a fabulous pitch.
What to look for in an answer: Many people hate the concept of PR because they associate PR with dishonest “spin.” But effective PR doesn’t have to spin the truth. Quality PR consultants can figure out a viable angle for a story and know how to customize their pitches accordingly, depending on the audience/publication. See if you agree with the PR consultant’s philosophy. Do her tactics sound legitimate and “above board”?
Question #4: How do you cultivate relationships with reporters, freelance writers, and bloggers? You want a PR consultant who has a deep database of contacts. And you want someone who nurtures these relationships while constantly adding new people to the mix (which is especially important if the PR consultant you’re considering doesn’t have a ton of contacts in your industry).
What to look for in an answer: Good PR consultants know how to work the room, and they know how to work the phones. They are “out there,” in person and/or online, depending on their goals. They also tend to be proud of their contacts and relationships, so listen for name-dropping here (the names of publications as well as the names of writers/reporters/bloggers). At the same time, this name-dropping shouldn’t sound too showy. (There’s something to be said for humility.)
Questions #5: What role does social media play in PR today? There’s no doubt about it: social media matters when it comes to spreading news, be it about a celebrity, a big brand, or even a small business. Ten years ago, Facebook was in its infancy, and Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest didn’t exist. The iPhone didn’t exist either. So if you’re talking to someone who has been “in the business” for over a decade—which is usually considered an asset when you’re interviewing people for almost any other type of business—you need to make sure that this person isn’t so old school that he or she hasn’t evolved with the times.
What to look for in an answer: First, the person shouldn’t hesitate. Nor should he or she attempt to downplay social media. Instead, listen for examples of how the person used social media to land press, enhance existing press, and/or control the message for clients.
You should also ask the person which medium is his or her personal favorite and why. You want someone who is ACTIVE on social media. So after the interview, check out the consultant’s online profiles on the biggest players, like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and potentially other social media platforms if they’re especially relevant to your business.
Question #6: What are some challenges you’ve faced when working with small business owners, and how did you overcome them? Let’s face it: everyone faces challenges when it comes to business. How a person handles himself or herself when the going gets tough is a true test of character.
What to look for in an answer: Transparency. You want an honest answer, not some sugarcoated PR spin.
Question #7: May I speak with some of your clients? Always, always ask for references. Do not skip this question.
What to look for in an answer: Again, you shouldn’t see any hint of hesitation. This is a standard question for all consultants. The person should be prepared and have several names for you to contact. And here’s the thing: you should follow up and contact these people.
What do you think? Have you worked with PR consultants? What other questions would you recommend asking? Share in the comments.