Very few small and medium size companies have the resources or content to support a full blown public relations campaign. Likewise, few business owners have the time or skills to be promoters too, writing and distributing news releases, scheduling interviews, writing feature articles, case studies and white papers, planning media conferences and handling day-to-day relations with editors. The bright side is that there are options available to businesses of every size. The key to success is being able to communicate your goals and be clear about the budget you intend to invest.

The next step is to find the right agency or independent practitioner that can achieve the goals you have set forth and is comfortable with your budget. Here are some guidelines to help you in making choices.

First, just like an employee, choose someone you feel comfortable with, both personally and professionally. Don’t overlook your gut-feelings when choosing a public relations partner. You need to be able to trust your team and be comfortable sharing details of your business. It is appropriate to bring up typical project costs early in the discussion. For example, what can we expect a typical news release to cost? What about media list development? Ongoing media relations? This way, you won’t be considering engagement until you know how big the ring is!

Referrals from business associates and other professional organizations are a good way to start. If there is a company whose efforts you particularly admire, ask who they use.

Once you identify candidates, interview them and remember that part of choosing a public relations professional is negotiating an arrangement that will meet your goals and work within your budget.

Once you have decided on an agency or contractor, be prepared to share appropriate information about your technology and the inner workings of your business. If it puts you more at ease, request that your partner sign a non-disclosure agreement. Obviously information that appears in public relations materials will be approved by you for public consumption. But, to be most effective, your team will need to be privy to far more information that you may consider proprietary. In the long run, giving access to more will result in better results for you.

Compensation should be another area of concern and discussion. Keep in mind that you are paying for services from a professional or agency team that are experts at what they do. A reputable partner will disclose all fees and terms up front.

Once you agree on your basic needs and budget, you can determine how to pay your partner. For public relations services requiring less consultation, you might want to pay an hourly billing rate. Most times, an estimate can be made on costs and spell out exactly what is included.

Another option is paying on a project basis. The total cost is based on an estimated number of hours a project will take, along with an estimate of required staff and expertise. Paying by project works well with a short-term effort, but it does not allow for more long-term, comprehensive strategy and does little to establish a true partnership.

A third plan for paying a PR firm is through a monthly retainer, which guarantees a minimum number of hours of service per month. This is advisable if you have fairly aggressive goals and enough content to sustain it. With the retainer system, you are not under the pressure of limited time whenever you call the PR firm for consult.

The best of all worlds is a hybrid solution. For media relations agree upon a maximum number of hours you expect your partner to spend and determine that cost. Then, for news releases and more complex projects ask for estimates as you move forward. Just as is the case with any relationship, the key to success is to be fair and keep the lines of communication open.

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