Public Relations

by Debbie Leven

Hired help

Organisations seek the help of PR consultants, agencies or freelancers, for a number of reasons:

  • Organisations which do not have a full-time PR function may find using a freelance consultant or PR agency a useful way to pursue PR objectives

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.

Daniel J Boorstin
  • Consultants, agencies and freelancers, can provide a useful extra resource for particular campaigns or activities – ensuring that regular day-to-day activities are not disrupted
  • The organisation may need to access specialist skills and sector expertise
  • It may make more financial sense for some organisations to use a flexible PR resource than to employ new staff and incur the additional costs this entails.

Specialist agencies

There are many different types of PR. It’s not unusual to find PR agencies which specialise in specific types of PR or have separate divisions to reflect sector focus: public sector, technology, not-for-profit, consumer, corporate, business-to-business and so on. Staff in those divisions will have specialist knowledge of their sector and the relevant press and media.

Financial PR is one specialist area, for example, and activities here might involve the publication of results, support for the annual general meeting, producing the annual report, and briefing analysts, brokers and journalists. Also, PR advisers will be involved when companies float, or are subject to takeover, mergers, acquisitions and so on. There are strict rules and regulations regarding financial information and the timing of releasing that information. Press coverage can have a major impact on share price. There are many other activities that fall under the PR umbrella which require specialist skills, such as sponsorship, lobbying or online PR.

Where can I source external PR support?

If you are thinking of hiring extra support, think carefully about exactly the type of support you want to suit your specific needs – time, budget, skills and so on. If you are looking for a consultant, freelancer or agency, it is helpful if you can act on a personal recommendation.

Failing that, you can find an expert through other routes. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) provides a number of services to help organisations find PR support. One service is a free database search to find the contact details of freelancers and consultants. The other is a paid-for matchmaker service – matching your specified criteria against information known about members. More information is available via the CIPR website under the Looking for PR section: www.cipr.co.uk.

The Public Relations Consultants’ Association (PRCA) also provides a matchmaking service via the PReview section on its website: www.prca.org.uk, though members are agencies with typically higher fees than smaller agencies or independent consultants. Listings of companies providing specialist services, such as media training, are also available in the back of the magazine PR Week.

Working with a consultant

A PR consultant, whether freelance or an agency, will be able to present creative ideas and draft materials as well as approach the press and media to ‘sell in’ ideas and stories. They are, in effect, being paid for their time and the vast experience they have in dealing with journalists, designers, photographers, printers and so on.

It is important to be realistic, both in terms of budget and of effort. In any relationship with an agency or freelancer, you need to have absolute clarity over fees – what is included and what isn’t; you don’t want any surprises. Issues to consider include

  • Rates – whether they vary depending on the type of work undertaken, the time of day (particularly relevant if out-of-hours support is needed), and the variations in rate that go with the level of personnel
  • Availability/accessibility of support
  • How expenses are charged
  • Any standard mark-up fee – it is standard industry practice to mark-up expenses.

Really, in considering whether you can work with an agency or freelancer, you need to be sure that they have an understanding of your organisation and are open to two-way dialogue. Considering evaluation at the start of any campaign is important. A PR consultant who is happy to sit down and chat through the best evaluation techniques has your best interests at heart.

A freelance consultant or an agency?

Typically, a PR agency will have a team of people and resources to support an organisation’s needs. The downside is that they are likely to be more expensive because of higher overheads. In addition, to be cost effective, the agency is likely to aim at larger-sized contracts than freelancers or consultants.

Also see the topic on hiring and working with Consultants.