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Should I use a PR agency?

There are no hard-and-fast rules for when small companies should call in outside PR help. Take into account:

* How confident and successful you are at managing your PR and dealing with journalists
* Whether you're involved in a crucial product launch or sales expansion that might be helped by using an agency for, say, six months
* Whether you face a potentially controversial or sensitive issue, or are involved in an industry that's in the media spotlight
* How much time it's taking
* How much it's costing you

Consider using a PR agency if your annual PR budget is greater than £10,000-£15,000. For smaller one-off projects, you can employ freelance PR agents. Day rates can range from £300 upwards.

Choose an agency with relevant experience and contacts. Getting publicity in national newspapers, television and radio is extremely difficult without a suitable agency.

Provide a clear briefing on what you're trying to achieve. Explain what makes your company and products different.

Plan how the PR agency will work with your other promotional activities. Be wary of agencies that see PR as the answer to everything, with no thought of alternatives such as advertising.
Is it worth it?

Always get quotes on how much you'll be paying and what you'll get for your money.

* How much will it cost to write a press release?
* Who'll be doing follow-ups and answering queries arising from the release - you or the agency? Are you getting 24-hour cover or just an event- or press release-based service?
* Like your business, PR agencies will have fixed costs to cover. Decide how much actual PR output you're getting for your money.
* Assess how interested the agency is in your business, and whether it understands it.

Make sure you establish clear objectives from the outset and communicate these to the agency. At the end of the campaign you can compare your results against these original objectives to assess whether you have obtained good value for your outlay.