What does a PR agency do?

Choosing to bring a PR (Public Relations) and communications agency on board is, for some, a no brainer; for others, it’s a leap into the unknown.

On the back of nearly two decades of running an agency, here’s my top 10 reasons why organisations, large and small, seek to look outside their teams for PR and communications support.

1. Professional PR & comms experience

We’ve honed our skills, knowledge and developed relationships to offer a specialist service that’s difficult to replicate in-house

PR is a professional discipline that can be underestimated or viewed through a partial lens that fails to recognise the breadth and the value of good PR.

Good PR draws on an evidence base and proof-points or RTBs (Reasons to Believe). These support authenticity and convey the honest case for the organisation’s direction of travel, paired with strong strategic foundations.

Understanding your audience

PR taps into a brand’s mission ,vision and values and involves crafting a strategy, campaign ideas and messaging that attracts understanding and endorsement. That requires a deep understanding of an industry landscape and exactly who the different audiences are. You need to understand the demographic, values, outlook, lifestyle and also have an appreciation of where they source their information; what influences them and what their motivations are. It might sound like a lot of background work and analysis, but it will be the backbone of a successful PR outcome.

PR teams bring expertise at this level, but also across the whole ‘PESO’ (see later) spectrum of opportunities from media relations, copywriting, social media and extensive knowledge of digital platforms. These skills need to be paired with strong planning, time management and an ability to juggle and switch quickly between workstreams. For the specialist agency, add a dose of industry insight, and the wealth of comms expertise becomes apparent, as does the difficulty of sourcing it without using agency expertise.

Audience

2. Grow and maintain your reputation

PR looks after your organisation’s reputation and that’s vital – especially with so many voices out there. But, proactively positioning an external profile can so easily be deprioritised or quickly lose momentum. An agency delivers dedicated focus, continually evolving campaigns and bringing new ideas.

It’s easy to fall for the mantra around using untapped resource in-house to handle PR and communications. But it’s a big job. The expectation of managing an organisation’s reputation is no mean feat and the risk is that individuals are set up to fail if they’re not equipped with the knowledge and skill-set, or if they lack direction or clarity

Alternatively, energies are purely directed to a single project, a flagship event or launch occasion. But – while these events can be exceptionally successful – they can lead to disappointment or potentially more of a negative reaction than expected. This can be a symptom of a failure to invest in seeding regular industry and media engagement which is where generating an under-current of consistent presence and exposing positive stories – online, in print, in industry circles and on social - are vital to an organisation’s reputation.

3. Manage industry and media contacts and connections

It’s not all about who you know, but it helps. Whether it’s media or industry related contacts, a PR agency can typically extend an organisation’s reach with its ‘little black book’ and offer the benefit of long-established relationships.

Why? Well, the communications business, unsurprisingly, involves a lot of communicating, interacting with others and exploring the ‘who’s who’. An agency with a good reputation and rapport can often make a connection or unearth an opportunity that might otherwise seem unattainable. Sometimes, it’s because of a long-term relationship and shared experience, but not always. Door opening opportunities can be more about an agency’s expertise in making an approach, broaching a topic and having the emotional intelligence that makes a connection and builds empathy and understanding. It’s powerful stuff and yields opportunity that can keep giving over years.

Contacts

4. Bring out the best of your team

Facilitation is often overlooked as a benefit of outsourcing your PR. But as with any consultancy approaching ‘from the outside, in’, having a PR consultant lead a session with your team can support all kinds of activities from brainstorming and sound-boarding ideas to media training or presentation skills

There’s something extra that someone from outside can bring to lift individuals out of day-to-day work and open their minds to exploring new ideas or opportunities. Communicators are naturally adept at managing team facilitation and getting the best out of a group and such sessions can be a fantastic way of promoting your own team’s CPD goals

5. Provide a creative injection

PR agency teams are continually exposed to new ideas and ways of getting an audience’s attention and this is a key asset to tap into. Agencies thrive in team settings and love nothing more than coming together to deliver a big injection of pan-agency creativity.

This out-of-the-box thinking relies on a combination of PR formula, drawing on experience and a touch of raw creative talent, and it’s powerful stuff

For those willing to consider something different with a creatively led campaign concept, there can be great rewards and the opportunity to get your audience’s attention in a big way.

Creativity

6. Use PESO for strategies and execution

Taking a strategic approach to your communications is a vital component of any PR campaign – but it’s nothing without doing the doing.

The team set-up of agencies offers organisations the flexibility to tap into differing skill sets and dial them up or down as a campaign demands. A great strategist is not always astute at the execution.

Agency teams offer both and more. The PESO model1 is an example of extending a strong strategy into a plan with the best mix of the tools and channels available. PESO stands for ‘Paid’. ‘Earned’, ‘Shared’ and ‘Owned’ and is a useful way of thinking about the channels available in the PR and marketing mix, with everything falling into one of the four categories. More on PESO in a future episode of this series.

7. Use tools to celebrate PR successes

Don’t overlook the tools agencies offer to monitor and showcase the results from a campaign. Understanding levels of success, as most people will agree, is increasingly important, but is not always easy to achieve.

Agencies typically capitalise on economies of scale to invest in monitoring, analytics or measurement platforms that are employed for all clients. These range from media monitoring, to social reporting, website analytics or the less tangible anecdotal evidence. These all combine to offer a thorough campaign post-mortem and a view on the return on investment

Too often, these additional reports and analytics are forgotten or left as an afterthought in a campaign. However, by prioritising these methods and tools, you can avoid repeating mistakes and quickly identify things that work well. Reporting holds an agency to account which in itself drives positive behaviours and can also be invaluable to showcase to internal audiences, particularly those more sceptical of marketing related efforts.

Analytics

8. Make the impossible, possible

PR activity typically demands a seasonal focus or for efforts to be sunk into a project or an important event. These peaks in workload can be difficult to resource in-house or to pull off without a hitch, but this is where agencies can step in and make what might seem impossible, possible.

We’ve already talked about why a continual under-current of PR can be beneficial, but that’s not to say that the ‘big deal’ opportunities in the calendar year don’t deserve a big push.

They absolutely do and can really propel an organisation in the level of exposure to be gained. It’s often a case of ‘all hands on deck’ and agencies can work with you – alongside a detailed plan that they’ll be adept at producing – to ensure every base is covered.

Whether that’s putting the time into preparation months ahead; working with speakers, refining presentations, giving a pre-interview pep-talk, sorting event logistics or chaperoning media and VIPs, the agency that’s an extension of your team, can leave an important and positive impression that reflects well on you.

9. Extend your team

As any HR professional will tell you, an employee costs an organisation far more than the headline salary. Compare that to a PR agency set-up that brings a breadth of talent, but without the overhead.

Agencies are normally structured according to a time-based model, meaning that what you pay correlates to the number of hours delivered by any one individual. Those with more experience or offering specialist knowledge will typically command a higher hourly rate than a team member in the first throng of their PR career (who – by the way will typically make up on their reduced years of experience with buckets of enthusiasm, tenacity and an ability to churn out work like no tomorrow).

The upshot is that the different attributes from a team are tapped into when they are needed and scaled back when they are not. This dial-up, dial-down opportunity is difficult to replicate in-house and can make agencies a really cost-effective solution.

Pinstone team

10. Provide a fresh perspective

Agency teams see and experience more of the world of communication and often of the industries in which they operate than those working in-house. That outside perspective can bring a different dimension and way of approaching a problem that offers a refreshing new perspective.

An agency can help an organisation stay on the ball and informed on what’s going on in an industry and media environment as well as being a useful sounding board. Offering the opportunity to see out beyond the four walls of a business or organisation is often a key asset for those who can otherwise struggle to see the woods for the trees.

‘Why use an integrated PR agency’ is part of the Pinstone Power Listicles series; authored by agency founder and managing director Catherine Linch. Catherine also hosts the ‘Agri-food Comms Cast’ podcast and heads-up Pinstone, a leading integrated PR agency that specialises in the food and farming supply chain and rural sector.

1The PESO model was developed by Gini Dietrich, lead blogger at the PR and marketing blog Spin Sucks.