Hiring a PR Agency? Prioritize These Top 7 Qualities

Key Insights When Hiring an Agency 💡

  • Data-Driven Strategies Triumph. A data-driven PR agency doesn’t just hope for success; it uses actionable data and insights to ensure your media relations program will deliver positive business outcomes, confidently securing high-impact coverage in the most relevant media outlets.
  • Client Obsession is Non-Negotiable. A PR agency that is truly client-obsessed doesn’t just meet your needs. Still, it anticipates them becoming an integrated extension of your team and ensuring that every strategic decision and campaign authentically aligns with your goals and brand voice.
  • Shared Values Foster Authentic Communication. Choosing a PR agency that genuinely shares your brand values, such as DE&I or sustainability, ensures they can authentically communicate your brand’s mission and are more likely to integrate those values into their work on your behalf.
  • Real Media Relationships Open Doors. Having a PR agency with robust media relationships, spanning high-profile outlets to industry-specific publications, provides access to opportunities that can deliver impactful business results, ensuring your brand is featured where it matters most.
  • Vertical & Industry Experience is Crucial. Employing a PR agency with specific experience in your vertical and industry ensures they comprehend the unique challenges and opportunities you face, providing insights and recommendations that are truly relevant and beneficial.
  • Specialized Services Enhance PR Efforts. A PR agency that offers specialized services, such as crisis communication, reputation management, and digital marketing, ensures that your brand is comprehensively supported, whatever the scenario or requirement.
  • Agency Growth Indicates Stability and Development. Opting for a PR agency that demonstrates consistent growth in revenue, client base, and team development signals stability and continuous investment in development, indicating a capability to deliver results and attract new business.

I’ve responded to hundreds of PR Agency RFPs over the years. Some asked for full-service public relations; others focused on smaller initiatives like crisis management, content creation, and strategic corporate communications.

It’s easy to spot the RFPs that have been carefully crafted to challenge participating PR agencies from those quickly thrown together for various reasons. However, the RFPs written by procurement crack me up the most. They are too long, indecipherable, and full of early 2000 buzzwords like Web 2.0 that no one uses anymore.

The best RFPs are concise, have specific deliverables, and include a budget. The best RFPs explain the business and what they want to achieve with a PR agency partnership. They also ask intelligent questions that help agencies understand if they are a good fit culturally.

That aside, I’ve always wondered why the more complicated RFPs with aggressive timelines consistently get sent out on Friday afternoons before a holiday weekend. Why? If I were on the client side, I would have the decency and mindfulness to at least send it on Thursday at the latest. I should name names, but I won’t!

The Top 7 Qualities to Look For When Hiring PR Agencies

Here are the seven qualities you should prioritize when evaluating and selecting a top PR agency partner.

Data-DrivenUtilizes data to enhance media relations strategies and provide actionable insights​.
Client-ObsessedPrioritizes understanding client needs, proactive communication, and attention to detail​.
Shared Brand ValuesAligns with the client’s brand values to effectively communicate the brand’s mission​.
Real Media RelationshipsMaintains strong media and industry influencer relationships to access various opportunities​.
Vertical & Industry ExperienceUnderstand the client’s vertical and industry for better insights and recommendations​.
Specialized ServicesOffers specialized services like crisis communication, reputation management, and digital marketing​.
Agency GrowthShows growth in revenue, client base, and team development, indicating stability and investment in development​.

Let’s explore each of these in more detail. And let me say that these are in no order of importance other than how I would prioritize.

The top 7 qualities when hiring a public relations agency.

A Data-Driven PR Agency Always Wins

You’ve heard the saying, “Hope is not a strategy.” A data-driven PR agency should clearly articulate how their approach will take you from “hoping” to “knowing” that your media relations program will deliver positive business outcomes. A data-driven PR agency will provide high-impact coverage in your business’s most relevant media outlets, and they will do so confidently using defendable data and insights.

There are two ways to validate that you are working with a data-driven public relations agency:

How are they using data to inform their media relations strategy? This answer should give you insights into their data approach and go beyond “looking at historical media coverage” to benchmark success. They should identify and quantify the top media publications writing about your business, competitors, and the industry you work in. This should include the top narrative drivers, top shared articles, top journalists, and their level of influence. A data-driven PR agency should give you actionable data insights that will help prioritize your top media list, inform your PR messaging, and uncover ownable market white space.

Are they using a media monitoring platform to track coverage? Most sophisticated PR agencies use Cision, Muck Rack, or another competitor to pull coverage. Alarms should go off if all they use is Google Alerts. But this question is just scratching the surface of their data literacy. There is a significant amount of rigor and data interrogation that goes into media measurement. It’s highly problematic if any PR agency sends you a canned report from one of these platforms without additional analysis.

Being a data-driven public relations agency is more than just adding bullet points on a PowerPoint slide or a web page. It’s more than just name-dropping Cision or Muck Rack in an RFI. They should be able to show evidence of how data and insights inform their approach and methodology. And if you ever hear them say something related to “tracking hits,” run far, far away, and never look back.

Being a data-driven PR firm is more than just adding bullet points on a PowerPoint slide or a web page.

Client-Obsession Should Drive the PR Firm

A client-obsessed PR firm will always have your best interests in mind. They will get to know you and your business inside and out so that they can be an extension of your team. Client obsession means that your agency is buttoned up on everything related to your account and is always thinking one step ahead by anticipating your needs.

The hallmark of a great agency is the ability to put themselves in their client’s shoes. They immerse themselves in your industry, business objectives, and brand voice. This empathy guides strategic decisions, leading to authentic campaigns that align with your goals. A client-obsessed agency works as an integrated extension of your team, leveraging their expertise while prioritizing your perspective. This fusion of big-picture thinking and meticulous execution is the foundation of impactful public relations.

Drilling Down on Client Obsession

CategoryWhat to Look For
Proactive CommunicationQuick response times, strategic counsel, willingness to challenge the status quo
Strategic CommunicationFrequent, high-quality updates with actionable recommendations
Attention to DetailAlways prepared, owns mistakes, comprehensive notes, anticipates needs

Proactive vs. Reactive Communication

The hallmark of a client-obsessed agency is proactive, strategic communication. They go beyond fielding requests and executing tactics reactively. An exceptional agency will respond swiftly to your needs and push the boundaries by challenging assumptions and the status quo.

Rather than just checking boxes, a proactive partner finds opportunities to provide valuable counsel. They analyze the bigger picture and your overarching goals, offering insights that inspire innovative approaches to public relations. A trusted advisor acts as a sounding board, listening first and then providing ideas to help you gain a fresh perspective.

The best agencies constantly brainstorm, bringing thoughtful suggestions that get you thinking differently. They analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your previous efforts to improve continuously. A proactive approach elevates the partnership to strategic levels, resulting in impactful media coverage that aligns with your brand vision.

Strategic Communication

Frequent, high-quality communication is the foundation of a strong partnership. An agency obsessed with client service will proactively update you on all activities, campaigns, and results. Rather than leaving you guessing, they will over-communicate to ensure you feel fully confident and informed.

Look for strategic updates that provide meaningful context and actionable insights. Not just data dumps. For example, the best agencies will summarize overall campaign performance and highlight key media mentions. But they’ll take it further by analyzing what’s working well, what could improve, and clear recommendations to optimize efforts moving forward.

You want a partner who contextualizes their updates with insights, allowing you to have strategic discussions and make data-driven decisions together. They should frame coverage and metrics regarding your business goals with actionable advice on increasing visibility and engagement.

Attention to Detail

In the high-stakes world of public relations, success comes down to meticulous attention to detail. A client-obsessed agency will demonstrate dedication by catching the small things that make a big difference.

Do they consistently come prepared for meetings and calls? Are they quick to follow up on action items and deadlines? When they make the inevitable mistake, do they take ownership and implement processes to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

Look for an agency that provides white-glove service by remembering your preferences, taking comprehensive notes, and proactively reminding you of key dates. They will study your brand guidelines closely, ensuring campaigns never compromise your image through something as minor as the wrong logo size or color.

While this level of detail-orientation may seem excessive, it’s critical when every communication and post represents your brand. One small oversight – like a typo in a press release – could undermine credibility and go viral for the wrong reasons.

A client-obsessed agency will have robust approval processes and QA procedures baked into their workflows. They don’t cut corners, instead earning your trust by demonstrating relentless attention to detail daily.

Shared Brand Values are Key When Hiring an Agency

It would be best to prioritize working with a public relations agency that shares your brand values. Doing so will ensure they understand your mission and can effectively communicate it to the media and general public.

For example, if DE&I is a strategic initiative for your brand, you must ensure that the agency also has a DE&I policy. More importantly, by looking at their management team, you can validate if the PR agency holds to its values. For example, do they have diverse leadership? Are people of color and women in top positions at the agency?

You can also look at the client roster to see if the agency works with companies with similar brand values or share case studies of their work with companies like yours. If they don’t have any, that is a huge red flag.

DE&I should be more than just lip service or a page on their website. You should see evidence of their commitment to DE&I in hiring practices, employee retention rate, client roster, and media coverage.

The same goes for other brand values, such as sustainability, social responsibility, and community engagement. PR agencies that share your values will be more likely to integrate those values into their work on your behalf.

You should also feel confident that the agency has a code of ethics, including transparency in its billing practices, avoiding potential conflicts of interest, and maintaining the highest journalistic standards. If an agency doesn’t have a solid code of ethics, it may unintentionally cut corners and make decisions that will put its business reputation at risk.

The PR Agency Must Have Media Relationships

A good PR agency will have strong media relationships. This is important because it gives you access to opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise.

For example, The New York Times is most likely on your top media list. Sadly, that alone doesn’t guarantee you coverage in that outlet. But an agency with strong relationships with one or more reporters that write for the Times will give you a better chance.

It’s not just about having relationships with high-profile media outlets either. A creative PR agency will also have relationships with trade, industry publications, local media, and broadcast. These media outlets may not have the same reach as The New York Times, but in some instances, a smaller and more focused media outlet could deliver more business impact.

In addition to media relations, a good PR agency will also have relationships with key influencers in your industry. This can help promote a new product or service or manage crisis and reputation.

Vertical & Industry Experience Critical

We should first define a vertical and industry. A vertical is a specific type of business, such as healthcare, retail, or technology. An industry is a group of companies with similar characteristics such as size, location, or target market.

For example, the healthcare vertical could include hospitals, clinics, and medical device manufacturers. The retail industry includes fashion retailers, grocery stores, and e-commerce companies.

When hiring an agency, it’s essential to consider their vertical and industry experience. A public relations agency that specializes in your vertical will have a better understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities that you face. They will also be able to provide insights and recommendations based on their experience with other companies in your vertical.

Industry experience is also essential because it allows the agency to benchmark its performance against other companies in your industry. This can be helpful when developing your PR strategy and setting objectives.

PR Agencies With Specialized Services

In addition to general media relations, there are a few specialized services that your public relations agency should offer. These services will be based on your specific needs, but some examples include the following:

Crisis CommunicationsFocuses on proactive identification and management of potential crises to protect brand reputation.
Reputation ManagementDedicated strategy to manage and protect brand reputation, especially during unavoidable crises.
Public AffairsAids heavily regulated companies in managing government relations through expert teams.
Creative ServicesHelps in developing compelling narratives and executing innovative ideas to stand out.
Digital MarketingOffers an integrated marketing strategy including paid media, email marketing, and more.
Social MediaProvides strategies for online community management, content creation, and navigating evolving platforms.
Market ResearchAids in understanding audiences to develop effective PR strategies.
Influencer MarketingEngages key influencers for impactful marketing campaigns and measures their impact.

Crisis Communications

Brands today face immense scrutiny, and any misstep can quickly escalate into a public relations crisis. The key to effectively navigating a crisis is preparation and rapid response. An experienced data-driven PR agency will leverage predictive analytics to identify potential issues before they erupt. By monitoring digital conversations and public sentiment in real time, they can detect early warning signs of emerging crises.

Once a crisis hits, timing is everything. Brands must take control of the narrative quickly with transparent, decisive messaging. This is where a seasoned crisis comms team is invaluable. They know how to craft empathetic statements that reassure stakeholders without fully admitting fault before an investigation. They also understand when to proactively push out key messages versus employing a reactive strategy.

There are no easy fixes during a crisis. Brands must demonstrate compassion, integrity, and accountability at every turn. Although a crisis creates short-term challenges, it also represents an opportunity to reinforce values and rebuild trust through open dialogue. With the right crisis readiness and response plan, brands can limit damage to their reputation and strengthen customer bonds.

Reputation Management

Managing brand reputation requires proactive, ongoing effort. It involves reinforcing brand values through consistent messaging and aligned actions. Monitoring conversations allows for early intervention when potential issues arise. Diverse firms provide valuable cultural insights to craft nuanced messaging that resonates across multiple audiences.

Proactive reputation management builds trust, credibility, and resilience. It reduces vulnerability to crises by spotting potential problems early and addressing them before they spiral. A strong, positive reputation is built on transparency, consistency, and early intervention. It does not happen by chance but through diligent, strategic management.

Public Affairs

Public affairs should be a top strategic priority for companies operating in heavily regulated industries or relying on government contracts. Navigating complex policy issues requires nuanced expertise and access. An experienced public affairs team will know about governmental processes and key decision-makers.

A strong public affairs firm will leverage relationships with politicians, lawmakers, lobbyists, and regulatory agencies to advance client interests. Their insights into shifting political landscapes allow them to identify potential challenges early and help shape policy conversations. Whether trying to influence legislation, secure approvals, or protect funding, knowledgeable guidance is essential.

However, ethical public affairs extends beyond backroom lobbying. It involves building grassroots support and connecting businesses, policymakers, and communities. A diverse firm will ensure local voices are heard in policy discussions that impact them. Public affairs is most effective when it balances policy expertise with authentic community engagement.

Creative Services

Simply distributing press releases and securing media coverage is no longer enough to stand out in today’s crowded marketplace. Brands need compelling stories that capture the audience’s imagination. This requires going beyond publicity tactics to craft narratives that emotionally resonate.

An impactful PR agency will have creative directors, brand strategists, and innovators who excel at this storytelling. They understand how to uncover and express a brand’s unique value proposition. They identify core consumer motivations through rigorous audience research and tailor messaging accordingly.

Powerful storytelling also involves experimenting with groundbreaking formats and platforms. A top-notch creative team will brainstorm ideas for an experiential activation, viral meme campaign, or interactive content series that aligns with brand goals. They constantly seek new ways to share stories that feel fresh and authentic.

Truly effective PR creativity informs business strategy at every level.

Digital Marketing

Innovative PR agencies recognize that owned, earned, shared, and paid media must work seamlessly. The PESO Model represents an integrated digital marketing approach that combines strategic brand storytelling with performance-driven tactics.

Media relations build credibility and trust. But a holistic strategy also leverages paid advertising to amplify reach at key moments. PPC, social ads, and affiliate marketing broaden exposure.

Website optimization and SEO increase discoverability and conversions. Email nourishes subscriber engagement. Lead generation captures interest and nurtures customers through the sales funnel.

Content builds brand affinity on a foundation of data-driven insights. Analytics inform messaging personalization and optimization. Platform expertise spotlights emerging touchpoints.

Social Media

Social media is now an essential element of any modern brand strategy, not an optional add-on. However, effective social PR requires much more than simply sharing press releases or announcements. It demands strategic community building, creative content, and cultural fluency.

A skilled social media agency will develop targeted campaigns to engage specific audiences on relevant platforms. With community management expertise, they foster meaningful connections that convert followers into brand advocates. They also continuously create innovative, on-brand content tailored for key platforms, from viral TikTok videos to Instagram Reels.

Staying on top of social media’s rapid evolution is crucial but challenging. An experienced agency will have its finger on the pulse of emerging trends, new features, and algorithm shifts. They will leverage these insights to keep content and strategies fresh, authentic, and impactful. Auditing an agency’s social channels proves that they practice what they preach.

Market Research

Launching an impactful PR strategy without thoroughly understanding your digital landscape is like exploring unknown territory without a map. Smart agencies use in-depth market research to illuminate consumer motivations, influencer ecosystems, and competition dynamics.

Robust analytics provide actionable data to pinpoint target demographics and what resonates most with them. Ethnographic studies and focus groups add crucial qualitative context around cultural nuances and decision motivations. Ongoing competitive audits reveal gaps in brand positioning and messaging strategies.

Armed with these audience insights, agencies can develop differentiated brands and compelling narratives that speak directly to the target audience in an authentic way. Research transforms vague brand personas into fully realized communities with unique hopes, values, and needs.

However, research cannot remain a one-off endeavor. Shifting digital landscapes demands flexible strategies. Ongoing analysis identifies emerging trends, platform algorithms, and new influencers to inform content innovation. Agencies must undertake rigorous initial research and continuously optimize based on real-time data.

Influencer Marketing

Consumers increasingly look to influencers over traditional outlets for information. As a result, cultivating relationships with relevant influencers is a powerful way for brands to reach target audiences.

An effective influencer agency identifies and vets potential partners to ensure an authentic ideological and cultural alignment with the brand. They leverage analytics to pinpoint influencers with engagement levels and audience demographics that support campaign goals.

Successful collaborations require more than just sending products and expecting endorsements. Strategic agencies nurture ongoing influencer relationships through privileged access and co-created content. They also provide transparency around performance metrics and compensation to build trust.

Paid influencer campaigns can provide impressive reach but must be approached with caution. Followers detect inauthentic promotions, damaging credibility. Agencies with expertise in paid programs understand how to craft branded content that entertains and engages rather than feels transactional.

The PR Agency Should Have Business Growth

A strong indicator of an agency’s capabilities is its ability to demonstrate consistent growth in revenue, clients, and team size over time. Sustainable expansion shows they provide results that attract new business and justify scaling up operations.

Revenue growth indicates an agency’s success in delivering measurable value to existing clients. These clients reward effectiveness by expanding contracts and referring other brands. Steady income growth also allows reinvestment into better talent, tools, and service expansion.

Increasing the number of clients served reveals a broad demand for an agency’s offerings. It also shows they can scale expertise and capacities to match growing needs. However, growth must balance quantity with quality to avoid over-extension. The ideal pace allows customization for each new client.

Expanding their team demonstrates an agency prioritizes top-notch talent as a vital asset. Experienced staff attract new clients. Strategic hires in key growth areas fuel innovation. Dedicated mentoring and training elevate skills across the agency. However, growth must align with client needs to avoid redundancy.

For agencies, steady expansion signals their positioning, offerings, and execution consistently translate into measurable outcomes. Far from complacency, growth reflects adaptable expertise and demand-driven evolution. When aligned with client success, expansion enables fuller service capabilities.

PR agencies must show revenue growth year to year

Hiring a Public Relations Agency: The Bottom Line

Move on if an agency can’t show you data proving they can generate results. The best agencies will have a mix of case studies, client testimonials, media coverage, and third-party awards that showcase their successes.

A PR agency is only as good as its people. The best PR agencies focus on their clients and consistently produce great work. This can be seen in their client retention rates, their time in business, and the awards they’ve won. A good PR agency will also have a strong team with experienced senior-level counselors and up-and-coming junior talent.

PR is an investment, not a cost. The best way to think about PR is as an investment in your company’s reputation and future success. A good PR agency will help you build relationships with key stakeholders, generate earned media coverage, and protect your reputation during a crisis.


What is a PR agency?

A PR agency is a company that specializes in creating and managing public relations campaigns. PR agencies help companies and organizations reach their target audiences through various channels, including media relations, crisis communications, reputation management, content creation, social media, and events.

Should you hire a PR agency?

If you need media coverage, yes. Hiring a PR agency can be a strategic investment as it can deliver value to your business by managing public relations, crafting content, handling crisis management, and executing strategic corporate communications, among other services.

What does a PR agency do?

A PR agency manages a brand’s public relations, which includes media relations, crisis management, content creation, and strategic corporate communications, ensuring the brand maintains a positive image. It builds fruitful relationships with key stakeholders and the media.

What is the difference between a PR and a marketing agency?

While PR firms and marketing agencies aim to promote brands and products, PR firms primarily manage the communication between a company and its stakeholders, focusing on managing the brand’s image and reputation. In contrast, marketing agencies promote and sell products or services, often through advertising and other promotional strategies.

How should a PR agency utilize data?

A data-driven PR agency should utilize data to enhance media relations strategies, providing actionable insights and high-impact coverage in relevant media outlets. It should be able to articulate how their approach will transition your strategy from “hoping” to “knowing” that your media relations program will yield positive business outcomes.

Michael Brito

Michael Brito is a Digital OG. He’s been building brands online since Al Gore invented the Internet. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.