Four Questions NOT to Ask a PR Agency

New business opportunities can come out of the blue.  Like any agency owner, I welcome them with open arms.  Usually, the initial call helps both agency and prospect tee up a meeting to learn more about the prospect’s company and what it’s looking to accomplish.  The written ones give you time to conduct due diligence before the next step.

However, some questions prospects ask on quickie phone intros send up immediate yellow flags.  I recently had one such phone call that left me with the impression the caller was trying to put out a tactical fire rather than build and send strategic smoke signals.

Articles and blog posts abound about what business owners and corporate marketers should ask agencies to see if there’s a fit. These should be reserved for either a face-to-face meeting or a longer scheduled phone call.  As you read over those articles, here are four questions and statements not to ask, especially over the phone:

1. “What would be your approach?” Until an agency owner or representative can sit down with you or spend some time over the phone to ask the right questions, they won’t have and should not offer any recommendations.  This potentially allows the client to prematurely latch on to a solution which may not even be close to solving their problem.

2. “We’re thinking about a press release.  Would that help?” Yes, media relations could be one of several tactics that can generate exposure, but most companies face additional issues beyond exposure, such as more compelling presentation of their company, together with more relevant messaging (we’ve found it can always be improved!). Press releases are tactical tools – one of many — not thoughtful strategy.

3. Can you get us a story in (insert name of publication/TV/Radio/portal/blog)? Targeting publications is a good idea… if the upfront work to know what messages are to be conveyed is done (which only comes from knowing much more about a prospect’s business). Other concerns include knowing who to contact and how they prefer to be approached, and crafting a story that is a good fit with their editorial slant or the blogger’s preference.

Many companies tend to gravitate to well-known media outlets that in many cases aren’t the best fit for their audience or their business and marketing objectives.  This is often because they don’t fully understand the potential depth and nuances of good publicity.

4. Can you submit a plan by the end of the week? Some agencies can work very quickly if they get access to key decision makers, have time to ask the right questions and can review existing business and marketing plans.

Questions are imperative.  As we’ve written in earlier posts, answering good questions invariably leads to a better outcome for both agency and client. Question number one is completely appropriate after spending some time with the agency.  Avoid the other three.  Because some questions are better left unasked.