Public relations, PR, PR team, PR Firm, PR Agency—it is a practice and a specialty that goes by many names, but performs one essential function: helping businesses and brands maintain a good public image.
Here, we will cover all of the burning questions PR practitioners regularly get from marketers and executives. We’ll take a look at:
- What PR firms do
- Who makes up a PR team
- Important things to ask a PR team before hiring them
- When to hire a PR firm to help your business
Let’s get started!
What Is a PR Firm?
A public relations—or PR—firm is a business that focuses on helping individuals and businesses shape the public perception of those that hire the firm.
People from all walks of life hire PR firms:
- Medical professionals
Businesses across virtually every industry also hire PR teams. From mom-and-pop shops to Fortune 500 companies, PR work can offer something to nearly every brand.
PR firms come in all shapes and sizes as well. Some offer a boutique selection of services, while others have massive teams devoted to just about every aspect of marketing and external communications a business could need.
Let’s talk next about just exactly what it is that PR firms do for their clients.
What Do PR Firms Do?
While no two PR firms offer identical services, you can make a safe bet that most cover some key elements of public personas and brand image.
Below are a few categories of services that most PR firms offer as a standard part of their business. That said, the field of public relations is constantly evolving because the way people consume media and communicate is constantly evolving.
So, if you’re looking for something specific in a PR firm we will teach you how to identify which team is right for you. Stick around for those tips in just a bit.
First, let’s examine PR services in broad strokes.
Media Coordination and Relations
Media coordination and relations are pretty straightforward. This service is especially vital for digital-forward companies looking for PR help.
Why? Because most PR happens on the internet these days. Even small businesses can have vast social media presence. This makes it difficult to keep tabs on every corner of the web where someone could be mentioning the name of your company.
Whether it is digital or not, media coordination and relations can look like:
- Reaching out to vendors, reporters, and other industry professionals to talk about exciting developments with your business
- Fielding incoming questions on the company website or through social media from customers and members of the press
- Managing businesses outreach teams to help them stay on message
- Forming long-term, positive relationships with influencers and other industry professionals in order to pitch good press
PR firms tend to have huge networking collateral. Some are especially adept at getting the attention of the national press.
Even more importantly, if there is trouble brewing for your company or its executives, they may have friendly connections that can help frame an image crisis in a fair light.
Events, Press Releases, Marketing Campaigns
This section runs a bit counter to the remark above that most PR happens on the web but analog, in-person public relations work is still a hallmark of any good marketing strategy.
A PR agency can help by scheduling, organizing, running, and optimizing your company events, press releases, and marketing initiatives (think experiential marketing).
Speaking of experiential marketing, sometimes these events end up being surprisingly high-stakes. That’s why it is important to have PR professionals craft the experience and help shape the response to a marketing experience.
Take Red Bull’s sponsorship of Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic freefall.
In 2013 Mr. Baumgartner attempted (and succeeded) at jumping out of a balloon at 128,100 feet above the earth … all while representing Red Bull Energy Drinks. Their logo and name were plastered across the balloon he jumped from, on his helmet, and his uniform.
They broadcasted the record-breaking feat and invited viewers to follow along live—which they did—by the millions on Youtube.
Imagine if this experiential marketing event had gone tragically wrong. Red Bull would forever be synonymous with the failed attempt. As it stands, Red Bull is already known for pulling off dangerous feats in the name of marketing.
So, kudos to the PR team that helped keep the experience safe, thrilling, and definitely brand-building.
Now, that was an extreme example, but even everyday marketing events can put pressure on a business.
If you sell products at conferences you may want to hire a PR team to make sure that everything goes smoothly on the day and that nothing malfunctions. They may also be able to handle tough questions and forge positive connections with important people in your industry.
PR agencies are also well-versed in the art of crafting a press release. Press releases can help make the public aware of new services, exciting developments, and philanthropic projects, and they can help build public trust back up in the event of a crisis.
Speaking of PR content, let’s discuss what PR teams can do for your content marketing strategy.
Many agencies offer content services beyond the standard press releases and briefs. Firms can also help you craft brand-nurturing digital marketing campaigns that offer increased trust in authority with online search engines, and with new and existing customers.
- Creating and managing blog posts
- Writing ad copy
- Crafting social media messaging
- Ghostwriting for executives
- And more
Some PR and Marketing firms offer paid advertising assistance. They can help optimize campaigns to get the most out of a company’s advertising spend.
Essentially, PR agencies can make marketing campaigns powerful and flashy—which might not be possible to do in-house if you only have a small number of employees at your company.
And, when things don’t go according to plan for your business, they can help craft the materials necessary to start making things right.
Brand Reputation Management
This is one of the hardest and most crucial elements of PR. In fact, it is the reason many businesses choose to hire external PR agencies to help.
Brand reputation management refers to the delicate work of monitoring, guarding, shaping, and re-shaping the public image of a brand.
The internet is a vast place and news—especially unsavory news—has a tendency to stick to brands.
There have been plenty of big brands in recent years that needed reputation management after an unfortunate event.
Even small businesses can fall victim to the negative news cycle.
In fact, something as simple as some negative reviews on third-party review sites can impact brand reputation.
It’s not just the brand’s image you need to manage, either. Executives are equally at risk for reputation-damaging events as the brands they helm are.
If you have an executive on staff that likes to make political rants on the company’s Twitter account, you will definitely want to have a PR agency on deck to handle the response.
Anxiety producing, right?
Don’t sweat it just yet, this is all much more manageable when it is handled by a professional team of PR experts.
And PR agencies don’t just help when things go wrong, they can also help make things go right.
Sourcing Awards Opportunities
No matter what industry you are in, there are probably a few coveted local and national recognitions that your competitors might be vying for. Are these awards important? Absolutely.
Having awards that you can share in press releases, on your website, and with potential stakeholders and customers builds good publicity for your business.
There are also employment awards that can help draw in top talent to staff your business.
Sourcing opportunities for these awards can be time-consuming and tedious work. Fortunately, PR firms are usually very skilled at finding and organizing award opportunities for clients.
And the inability to scale to do work like this is often a reason that businesses decide to hire outside help. PR firms have a number of different specialized positions that help keep things running smoothly from multiple angles.
Who Makes Up a PR Team?
Because PR firms wear a lot of hats, they can have a lot of different positions that specialize in different facets of public relations work.
Social Media Specialists
As the name implies, many PR companies house at least one social media specialist or social media manager to monitor business social media channels, and build social media campaigns.
These folks may:
Update social media bios
Create and schedule new posts
Create interactive campaigns and giveaways
And, while it isn’t a direct ranking factor for Google, having a good social media presence is vital to good brand PR.
In this role, the individual usually acts as the face or the voice of the clients they represent. If you have ever watched a press conference, they are typically the people that utter the infamous phrase, “No further questions at this time.”
These individuals may help you speak with the press via radio, social media, or TV. This is an especially important task if you aren’t familiar or comfortable with addressing audiences.
These people are also usually really good at appearing not to be reading from a script. This makes them come across as more sincere when they represent clients.
Publicists are usually very smart strategists. They take a look at your business goals and help you craft and implement a marketing/PR plan that works for you.
These are also the people within PR firms that get the most nerve-wracking task: managing a crisis.
This might involve doing deep research, developing counter narratives, finding flaws (or inaccuracies in reporting), monitoring a huge swath of the internet looking for other signs of trouble, and much more.
Publicists are the people you want in your corner when something goes wrong.
These talented writers help draft your digital marketing content. That means they will research and write blogs, press releases, news articles, pitches, social media posts, and more.
They can usually be found clacking away at the keyboard on behalf of their clients.
That’s right, you do. While you might not be an employee of an external PR firm, you are a vital component to the success of any PR campaign that firm puts together on your behalf.
The best, most strategic plans come together when business owners work closely with the PR teams they hire. This way, you can guarantee that your brand is being represented exactly as you want it to be.
The best PR work feels like it came straight from your own mind.
Can PR Be Done in House?
While there is no simple answer to this because every business has unique circumstances, it is safe to say that public relations can be an astronomical amount of work, even for small businesses that don’t need a ton of fuss.
You might think that your business can handle the workload, but lets remember what elements go into a solid, basic PR strategy:
- Press relations
- Digital marketing
- Digital content
- Brand and executive reputation management
- Social media management
- Awards sourcing
It would be very impressive to find someone who could juggle all of that at once. In fact, juggling too much in-house creates a risk of a PR crisis. If you are focused too heavily on one element of the plan, a problem might creep up and surprise you.
So, while there are compelling arguments for either decision, for many business owners it comes down to cost.
Can you afford to hire multiple employees to handle the day-to-day public relations and marketing tasks that need doing, or would it ultimately be less expensive to hire an agency?
If you are ready to find a PR agency, there are some important things to keep in mind as you begin your search.
Hiring a PR Agency
Before you set out to find the right PR company that fits your qualifications, you will want to step back and establish what it is you are looking for.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How much money can I spend on PR and marketing?
- Do I want to hire a PR agency for a single campaign, or do I need them year-round?
- What goals do I have for my website?
- What goals do I have for my public image?
- Do I have a rough calendar of events, campaigns, and marketing needs that a PR firm could help with?
- What is the most important thing I am looking for in a PR firm?
Once you’ve established your basis for hiring a firm, you’ll want to start interviewing (or communicating) with agencies. Be prepared to ask about:
- Previous client experience – Have they worked with businesses in your industry before?
- Testimonials – Have former clients given them written praise they are willing to share?
- Expertise – How long have they been in business? What kind of degrees and experience do their employees have?
- Client interviews – Can they point you to a former or current client you can speak to directly?
- Media relations – How do they win publicity for their clients?
- Integrating with in-house teams – How will their team and yours connect to build success?
Great PR doesn’t happen overnight. You will probably hear this from virtually anyone you talk to that works at a PR firm. It is important that you have reasonable expectations for the work your firm does on your behalf.
Doing this will only help increase your ROI. The less time you spend worrying about immediate campaign pay off, the more time you can devote to other elements of business that can be just as important and time-consuming.
You have every right to ask that your PR firm provide you with regular updates! But, be aware it may take weeks, months, or for big campaigns, even years to see positive results.
On the flip side, it is vital that you share your expectations with your PR firm upfront. Give them the information and tools they will need to start building a brand image to be proud of.
Know how you want them to keep in touch with you—how often, about what, what kind of reporting you like to see.
Keep members of your team informed about progress and what your PR agency is doing for your business.
PR Firms Are Here to Help Your Business Succeed
PR companies don’t just come riding in when someone has attacked your brand image.
They are experts at finding great stories about your business—even in places you may not have thought to look. In other words: they are here for the great moments, too.
They’ll be ready to pull together positive testimonials, find your philanthropic good deeds, and they can whip up funny, engaging social media campaigns that will help create brand loyalists.
If you want to see just how customizable a PR firm’s services can be for your business, check out the Agency Partners Platform and take a look at all of the unique and talented agencies waiting to bring your PR and marketing campaigns and strategies to life.
The Agency Partners Platform is a directory of Semrush-certified agencies. These agencies service brands and individuals across hundreds of industries.
You can filter your search by:
- Industry expertise
- SplitSignal expertise
- Promotional region
- Pricing model
- Company size
- Agency location
- Remote work
To get started, you can browse the catalog, or fill out a project brief detailing your needs and Semrush will partner you with an agency that specializes in what you are looking for.
The catalog even offers an agency score while you’re browsing. This proprietary metric gives you a high-level view of the quality you can expect from that agency.
You can never be over-prepared for hiring a PR agency.
Have a PR Team On Your Side Before You Need One
The best possible time to hire a PR agency is when you don’t desperately need one. The second best time to bring in a PR firm is when you do desperately need one.
Fortunately, a lot of businesses have begun to recognize this. In fact, in one uSERP survey, 60% of businesses said they outsource their digital PR in 2021 and 2022.
Remember, onboarding a new PR team takes time. Assets and resources need to be shared, internal teams need to be looped in, and it takes time to get the press rolling for your business.
With that in mind, you will want to start thinking about public relations before you see your business featured in an exposé on the nightly news.
The Agency Partners Platform has nearly 1000 agencies waiting to partner with you on the business campaigns and strategies that excite and motivate you.
Looking for proof? Check out customer testimonials like this one to learn how PR agencies have helped businesses expand beyond their goals and find life-long customers in the process.