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Seven Things To Consider When Selecting a Communications Partner

Of all the many lessons companies learned over the past year, one of them was to never underestimate the importance of effective communication. How businesses tell their stories can play an essential role in how they are positioned and perceived by customers, investors and other key audiences. And who is shaping and framing that story can mean the difference between achieving the goals to propel your business forward or falling short.

As I reflect on my years in the communications field, I’ve worked with and for companies of all sizes, at all stages across many industries, from tech to sports to beer to port-a-potties! Whether early-stage looking to launch, or more established looking to maintain momentum while expanding into new areas, each company has unique requirements and expectations that a communications partner must know how to navigate. And when it’s time to select the right partner, it’s not a decision to take lightly. These criteria can help ensure you find a partner that truly fits your needs:

  1. Strategic approach. The best communications partners don’t wait for the news to happen; they know how to create it. Whether it be through thought leadership development or targeted media outreach, the savviest firms should be highly skilled at creating and shaping your company’s point of view. It’s no longer enough to rely upon cookie cutter pitches or dated PR tools; look for a firm that has a clear and thoughtful approach to achieving your communications objectives and addressing your pain points. Ask your potential partner what they do in the absence of ‘big news’ months to keep building momentum.

  2. Scaling know-how. If you run a high-growth tech company, look for a firm with experience scaling tech brands. Not every firm understands the lifecycle of venture backed companies and knows what it takes to be successful from launch to exit. Make sure to ask potential partners for specific examples of communications work at every stage as well as to define and measure ROI so that you can be aligned from the get-go.

  3. Chemistry: Before you enter into a relationship with any PR or communications agency, make sure that there is positive chemistry. It’s not enough to hire a firm with a strong reputation. For the relationship to thrive, you need to make sure that the firm is a good cultural fit. After all, for communications teams to work most effectively, they should be an extension of the executive team, not just seen as outside vendors. Remember that you’re looking for experts to provide sound counsel and guidance, not just someone to tell you what they think you want to hear.

  4. Trustworthiness. If the chemistry feels right, the next question is whether you trust the proposed partner. Are you confident that this communications professional or team of professionals will appropriately represent you and your brand to the media? Do you feel secure knowing that this person or team will be managing your relationships with reporters and ultimately shaping how your story is told? If you’re not sure, keep looking.

  5. Size. In this instance, size can matter a great deal. Don’t fall into the “big budget, big agency; small budget, small agency” mindset. If you have a global network of offices with important PR needs in many countries, hiring a large, global PR agency with offices in all your countries may make sense. If not, smaller firms offer a variety of benefits. They are more likely to be flexible and nimble, stay on top of changing trends and provide more opportunities for regular interaction with senior leaders.

  6. Communications vs. industry expertise: Don’t get too hung up on finding an agency partner with experience that exactly matches your company’s industry. You never know when you might pivot to a different segment of the market and you want a communications team that knows how to navigate within any industry.

  7. Team experience: In addition to industry expertise, pay attention to how many years of experience an agency’s members have. Many of my clients have shared that they started a relationship with an agency based on the positive impression the firm’s leader made only to find out that most of their interactions took place with more junior level employees. Take a look at the depth and breadth of experience of the entire team when you make your decision. Don’t be afraid to ask which team members you will speak with daily and how long they’ve worked in the field.

PR and communications firms are not one-size-fits-all; they come in all shapes and sizes with different specialties and benefits. Make sure you find one that will give you the attention you deserve while meeting your individual needs. By doing your homework and prioritizing the criteria that matter most to your business goals, you can build a mutually beneficial relationship with a partner that will not only help you tell your story, but take it to the next level.

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