Public Relations Agency: How To Collaborate

Leverage the power of PR to skyrocket your business.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Are you con­sid­er­ing hir­ing a pub­lic rela­tions agency?

Collaborating with a great PR agency could be your secret weapon.

Having worked at (and with!) many dif­fer­ent types of PR agen­cies, let me give you the basic run­down on how to get it right.

Here we go:

I. How To Work With PR Agencies

Before con­tact­ing PR agen­cies, know­ing which type of col­lab­or­a­tion format you’re look­ing for is wise.

Work With PR Agencies - Wag the Dog - Robert De Niro - Dustin Hoffmann.
PR = Personal Relationships?
(Scene from “Wag the Dog” with Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffmann.)

There are typ­ic­ally three main formats for work­ing with a PR agency:

  • Agency of record. In this arrange­ment, you des­ig­nate a spe­cif­ic PR agency as your primary agency for all pub­lic rela­tions needs that may arise. The agency of record man­ages all aspects of your PR strategy, includ­ing media rela­tions, crisis man­age­ment, and stra­tegic com­mu­nic­a­tions. This is a long-term, com­pre­hens­ive rela­tion­ship that often includes a con­trac­tu­al agreement.
  • Retainer PR agency. You pay a monthly fee for chosen PR ser­vices with a retain­er PR agency. This could include seni­or advis­ory, media out­reach, con­tent cre­ation, social media man­age­ment, and more. The work is usu­ally out­lined in an agree­ment where the retain­er PR agency provides ongo­ing sup­port and ser­vices for the dur­a­tion of the agree­ment. This arrange­ment lets the agency become deeply famil­i­ar with your brand and objectives.
  • Single PR pro­ject. The PR agency will handle a spe­cif­ic pro­ject or cam­paign in a pro­ject-based arrange­ment. This could be a product launch, a rebrand­ing ini­ti­at­ive, a spe­cial event, or a crisis man­age­ment situ­ation. The agency works on the pro­ject for a defined peri­od and is paid based on the agreement’s details. This is a good option if you have a spe­cif­ic, short-term need and want to bring in expert help.

Which format of col­lab­or­a­tion is best for you? 

One stand­ard route is to hire a PR agency for a PR pro­ject. If every­one is happy, the PR agency is put on a primary retain­er, allow­ing ongo­ing PR ser­vices at a more bene­fi­cial fee struc­ture. For any addi­tion­al pro­jects, they’re wel­come to com­pete with their pro­pos­als. If every­one is happy with the primary retain­er and most addi­tion­al PR pro­jects go to the agency any­way, the agency can be “pro­moted” to an agency of record. Being a “pre­ferred part­ner” allows the PR agency to agree on a more bene­fi­cial fee structure.

II. The Benefits of a Public Relations Agency

There are many situ­ations where hir­ing a PR agency is the only way to access cer­tain powers. A few examples would include:

  • Get access to high-level com­pet­ency you won’t (or can’t) hire. PR agen­cies are staffed with pro­fes­sion­als with the expert­ise to handle com­plex PR tasks and strategies that might be bey­ond what the organ­isa­tion could oth­er­wise attract. 1A PR agency is typ­ic­ally a dynam­ic set­ting with vary­ing high-level PR chal­lenges and a mix of com­pet­it­ive tal­ents. Organisations often can­not match such an envir­on­ment to attract thrill-seek­ing PR … Continue read­ing
  • Get access to extern­al think­ing, exper­i­ence, and advice. A PR agency brings an out­side per­spect­ive to your busi­ness. They can provide fresh ideas, unbiased advice, and insights based on their exper­i­ence with many oth­er cli­ents and industries.
  • Get access to per­son­al net­works with stake­hold­ers, influ­en­cers, and pub­lics. A PR agency with estab­lished rela­tion­ships with media out­lets, influ­en­cers, and key stake­hold­ers. They can lever­age these con­nec­tions with the right people.
  • Get access to cre­at­ive, out-of-the-box think­ing. PR agen­cies often cre­ate cre­at­ive and innov­at­ive strategies to get your brand noticed. They can help you stand out and sig­ni­fic­antly impact your PR efforts.
  • Get access to tried-and-tested pro­cesses and frame­works. PR agen­cies have pro­cesses and frame­works in place to man­age PR cam­paigns effect­ively. They know what works and what doesn’t and can guide you through the pro­cess to ensure your cam­paign is successful.

III. Why a PR Agency is Your Secret Weapon

How can a PR agency be a secret weapon?

  • Tounge in cheek, many PR pro­fes­sion­als will say, “Advertising is the tax you pay for not being remark­able.

A PR pro­fes­sion­al doesn’t think the same way as most oth­er white-col­lar is try­ing to steer the con­ver­sa­tion towards products and ser­vices; the PR pro­fes­sion­al will instead cre­ate stor­ies around top­ics that people care about.

PR is dif­fer­ent. And in a wired world over­loaded with a mind­numb­ing caco­phony of mar­ket­ing mes­sages, dif­fer­ent is good.

A PR agency can help an organ­isa­tion break away from the noise and clut­ter of tra­di­tion­al mar­ket­ing tac­tics and forge genu­ine con­nec­tions with its audi­ence. They do this by craft­ing com­pel­ling nar­rat­ives that res­on­ate on a human level rather than resort­ing to hard-sell tactics. 

The PR approach not only makes an organ­isa­tion more relat­able and trust­worthy in the eyes of its audi­ence, but it also sets it apart from com­pet­it­ors. In a world where con­sumers increas­ingly seek authen­ti­city and mean­ing­ful engage­ment, a PR agency can be a secret weapon.

IV. Key Services Provided by PR Agencies

PR agen­cies typ­ic­ally provide ser­vices fol­low­ing the stake­hold­er model:

The Stakeholder Model - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
The stake­hold­er mod­el in pub­lic relations.
Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

The Stakeholders in Public Relations

In pub­lic rela­tions (PR), we often dis­cuss stake­hold­ers. And our PR spe­cial­isa­tions are named based on which PR stake­hold­er group we’re respons­ible for managing. 

In a cor­por­a­tion, a stake­hold­er is a mem­ber of ‘groups without whose sup­port the organ­isa­tion would cease to exist’, as defined in the first usage of the word in a 1963 intern­al memor­andum at the Stanford Research Institute. The the­ory was later developed and cham­pioned by R. Edward Freeman in the 1980s. Since then it has gained wide accept­ance in busi­ness prac­tice and in the­or­ising relat­ing to stra­tegic man­age­ment, cor­por­ate gov­ernance, busi­ness pur­pose and cor­por­ate social respons­ib­il­ity (CSR).”
Source: Wikipedia 2Stakeholder (cor­por­ate). (2023, October 27). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​t​a​k​e​h​o​l​d​e​r​_​(​c​o​r​p​o​r​ate)

The PR Stakeholder Model

  • Corporate Communications = External and intern­al pub­lics, busi­ness journ­al­ists, reg­u­lat­ory insti­tu­tions, part­ners, sup­pli­ers, vendors, etc.
  • Investor Relations (IR) = Shareholders, fin­an­cial mar­kets, mar­ket ana­lysts, fin­an­cial insti­tu­tions, trade journ­al­ists etc.
  • Media Relations = Journalists, edit­ors, influ­en­cers, etc.
  • Digital PR = Inbound web traffic, brand com­munit­ies, sub­scribers, fans, fol­low­ers, influ­en­cers, social net­works, etc.
  • Public Affairs (PA) = Voters, polit­ic­al journ­al­ists, polit­ic­al ana­lysts, colum­nists, interest groups, etc.
  • Lobbying = Politicians, legis­lat­ors, gov­ern­ment offi­cials, com­mit­tees, influ­en­cers, etc.
  • Internal Communications = Coworkers, poten­tial recruits, etc.
  • Crisis Communications = Crisis vic­tims, wor­ried pub­lics, the gen­er­al pub­lic, cowork­ers, journ­al­ists, influ­en­cers, cus­tom­ers, share­hold­ers, etc.
  • Marketing PR = Potential cus­tom­ers, exist­ing cus­tom­ers, trade journ­al­ists, mem­bers, affil­i­ates, etc.
  • Industry PR (B2B) = B2B cli­ents, B2B pro­spects, trade journ­al­ists, trade organ­isa­tions, niche influ­en­cers, etc.

Developing and main­tain­ing rela­tion­ships with vari­ous stake­hold­ers is a sig­ni­fic­ant chal­lenge for PR pro­fes­sion­als since their inform­a­tion needs are typ­ic­ally very dif­fer­ent. 3A wide­spread mis­con­cep­tion is that the PR func­tion only deals with journ­al­ists (Media Relations) and product pro­mo­tion (Marketing PR). However, such work rep­res­ents only a tiny frac­tion of all the … Continue read­ing

Public rela­tions dis­tin­guishes itself from mar­ket­ing by focus­ing on the stake­hold­er-organ­iz­a­tion rela­tion­ship, which com­prises mutu­al ori­ent­a­tion around a com­mon interest point and a mul­ti­pli­city of stakes.”
Source: Public Relations Review 4Smith, B. (2012). Public rela­tions iden­tity and the stake­hold­er – organ­iz­a­tion rela­tion­ship: A revised the­or­et­ic­al pos­i­tion for pub­lic rela­tions schol­ar­ship. Public Relations Review, 38, 838 – 845. … Continue read­ing

Learn more: Stakeholders in Public Relations

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For instance, one agency I worked at (Springtime PR) provided spe­cial­ised ser­vices in cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tions, intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tions, crisis com­mu­nic­a­tions, and pub­lic affairs (PA). Another agency I worked at (Spotlight PR) provided spe­cial­ised ser­vices in media rela­tions, industry PR (B2B), and mar­ket­ing PR. Yet anoth­er agency I worked at (Whispr Group) provided spe­cial­ised ser­vices for digit­al PR.

It would be easy to say that spe­cial­ist agen­cies are always bet­ter at spe­cif­ic types of PR chal­lenges, but the dif­fer­ence between gen­er­al­ist PR agen­cies and spe­cial­ist PR agen­cies is much smal­ler than between good and bad PR agencies. 

I advise pick­ing a good PR agency over a PR agency with a per­fectly matched specialisation.

V. Red Flags When Hiring PR Agencies

Overview of the primary ser­vices provided by a PR agency, such as media rela­tions, crisis com­mu­nic­a­tions, event man­age­ment, and more.

  • Lack of clear com­mu­nic­a­tion. If the agency is unclear when com­mu­nic­at­ing with you at the begin­ning of the rela­tion­ship, it could indic­ate future problems.
  • No cus­tom­ised approach. If the agency offers a one-size-fits-all strategy without con­sid­er­ing your spe­cif­ic needs and goals, it may not be the right fit.
  • Promising fast res­ults. Be wary of agen­cies that prom­ise imme­di­ate or unreal­ist­ic res­ults. Good PR takes time and stra­tegic planning.
  • Lack of rel­ev­ant exper­i­ence. If the agency doesn’t have exper­i­ence in your industry or with sim­il­ar pro­jects, they may be unable to meet your needs effectively.
  • Weak case stud­ies and ref­er­ences. If the agency can’t provide examples of their past work or ref­er­ences from sat­is­fied cli­ents, it’s a red flag.
  • High staff turnover. Frequent staff changes can indic­ate instabil­ity with­in the agency and dis­rupt the con­tinu­ity of your PR efforts.
  • Too much jar­gon and fluff. If the agency comes across as try­ing to impress you with cor­por­ate cringe or plat­it­udes, they’re prob­ably com­pens­at­ing for some­thing else.
  • Lack of trans­par­ency. If the agency isn’t open about their fees, meth­ods, or who will work on your account, it’s a cause for concern.
  • No met­rics or eval­u­ation meth­ods. If the agency doesn’t have a way to meas­ure the suc­cess of its PR efforts, it’s hard to know if you’re get­ting a good return on your investment.
  • Performance-based pri­cing. PR agen­cies don’t con­trol the media — nor should they. Independent entit­ies (like politi­cians, influ­en­cers, journ­al­ists etc.) can be influ­enced. Still, their actions and work should nev­er be charged for by a third-party vendor, as that would be an uneth­ic­al busi­ness practice.
  • Junior team mem­bers keep quiet in meet­ings. At agen­cies with a func­tion­ing organ­isa­tion­al cul­ture, juni­or team mem­bers are eager to prove their worth to you — and they’re encour­aged by seni­or col­leagues to speak up.
  • Poor online repu­ta­tion. If the agency has neg­at­ive reviews or a poor online pres­ence, it could indic­ate prob­lems with their work or cli­ent relationships.

VI. Tips for Choosing the Right PR Agency

Accepting that you must make a few fun­da­ment­al decisions is a good start­ing point. Depending on your spe­cif­ic PR chal­lenge, you should start by decid­ing between these preferences:

  • Big vs small. Big PR agen­cies often have stand­ard­ised prac­tices, tried and tested pro­cesses, redund­an­cies, and a wider vari­ety of in-house com­pet­en­cies. Small PR agen­cies (some­times called “boutique agen­cies”) often have more engage­ment, per­son­al approaches, less bur­eau­cracy, and lower prices.
  • Global vs loc­al. Global PR agen­cies have the advant­age of a world­wide net­work, resources, and under­stand­ing of inter­na­tion­al mar­kets. They can provide a broad per­spect­ive and have the abil­ity to execute cam­paigns across mul­tiple coun­tries. Local PR agen­cies, on the oth­er hand, have a deep under­stand­ing of the loc­al mar­ket, cul­ture, and con­sumer beha­viour. They can provide more per­son­al­ised and loc­al­ised strategies.
  • Strategic vs pro­du­cing. Strategic PR agen­cies focus on provid­ing high-level stra­tegic advice and plan­ning. They help busi­nesses define com­mu­nic­a­tion goals, identi­fy tar­get audi­ences, and devel­op a com­pre­hens­ive PR strategy. Producing PR agen­cies, on the oth­er hand, focus more on the exe­cu­tion of the strategy. They cre­ate deliv­er­ables such as media cov­er­age, press releases, social media posts, events, etc.
  • Generalist vs spe­cial­ist. Generalist PR agen­cies (often called “one-stop shops”) offer a wide range of ser­vices under one roof, from PR and mar­ket­ing to advert­ising and digit­al ser­vices. This can be con­veni­ent for busi­nesses look­ing for a com­pre­hens­ive solu­tion. Specialist agen­cies, how­ever, focus on a spe­cif­ic area of PR or a spe­cif­ic industry. They have deep expert­ise in their area of focus and can provide more spe­cial­ised and tailored services.
  • Senior vs cre­at­ive. Senior PR agen­cies are typ­ic­ally made up of exper­i­enced pro­fes­sion­als who bring a wealth of know­ledge, expert­ise, and industry con­nec­tions. They can provide stra­tegic coun­sel and have the abil­ity to handle com­plex PR issues. Creative PR agen­cies, on the oth­er hand, pri­or­it­ise innov­at­ive and out-of-the-box think­ing. They excel at cre­at­ing unique, enga­ging con­tent and cam­paigns that cap­ture atten­tion and drive engagement.

For instance, know­ing before­hand that you’re spe­cific­ally look­ing for a Big-Local-Strategic-Generalist-Senior PR agency will guide your decision (and help you ask the right ques­tions!) when search­ing for the right fit for your organisation.

VII. Why Marketing Agencies Fail at PR

Perhaps your organ­isa­tion is already work­ing with a mar­ket­ing agency? Perhaps they can do your PR, too.

I’ve met and inter­ac­ted with thou­sands of mar­keters over the years, and one thing is abund­antly clear: they don’t even know what PR is sup­posed to do. The most com­mon mar­ket­ing belief is that PR is syn­onym­ous with the idea that PR should gen­er­ate pub­li­city on the back of mar­ket­ing campaigns.

But per­haps pub­li­city for your mar­ket­ing efforts is exactly what you’re look­ing for, anyway?

Unfortunately, for mar­ket­ing agen­cies, you can’t use “mar­ket­ing speak” with stake­hold­ers, influ­en­cers, and pub­lics. Not only do they hate it, but they often take offence pub­licly. And now you’re going from want­ing bet­ter PR to get­ting worse PR overall.

Caution: Agencies of all sorts might tell you they’re great at everything — and that you don’t have to make any trade-offs. Err on cau­tion, do your research, and ask fol­low-up ques­tions. This is sound advice for deal­ing with any agency, of course.

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please con­sider shar­ing my pub­lic rela­tions blog with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tion and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. If you have ques­tions (or want to retain my PR ser­vices), please con­tact me at jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: Free Corporate PR Course

1 A PR agency is typ­ic­ally a dynam­ic set­ting with vary­ing high-level PR chal­lenges and a mix of com­pet­it­ive tal­ents. Organisations often can­not match such an envir­on­ment to attract thrill-seek­ing PR minds.
2 Stakeholder (cor­por­ate). (2023, October 27). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​t​a​k​e​h​o​l​d​e​r​_​(​c​o​r​p​o​r​ate)
3 A wide­spread mis­con­cep­tion is that the PR func­tion only deals with journ­al­ists (Media Relations) and product pro­mo­tion (Marketing PR). However, such work rep­res­ents only a tiny frac­tion of all the stake­hold­er rela­tion­ships PR pro­fes­sion­als must man­age daily.
4 Smith, B. (2012). Public rela­tions iden­tity and the stake­hold­er – organ­iz­a­tion rela­tion­ship: A revised the­or­et­ic­al pos­i­tion for pub­lic rela­tions schol­ar­ship. Public Relations Review, 38, 838 – 845. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​J​.​P​U​B​R​E​V​.​2​0​1​2​.​0​6​.​011
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has


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