Dragons’ Den gets a ‘brand’ new look & my tips for hiring a PR agency

If there was one theme to emerge from the first episode it was ‘Know Your Brand’. Kelly Hoppen, was as you’d expect, all about the brand. Her main feedback to a luxury picnic hamper company was to “hire a PR company and get yourself into Tatler”.

While the other dragons pontificate on overheads and equity shares, it’s fair to expect that as the series progesses, Kelly will be the one advising companies on their branding and the value of a well-executed PR campaign.

For a new start-up, getting the branding right is crucial. As a company grows, it becomes incrementally more difficult and more expensive to change a brand.

When it comes to PR, this can be daunting territory and picking an agency is a difficult decision.

A successful PR campaign can help you expand your business in ways you could not achieve alone. But there’s never a guarantee that a PR campaign will produce the desired results.

So how do you pick an agency likely to produce the best results for your business?

Businesses we speak to often ask us about this. We always advise making a decision based on a number of factors; your budget, your expectations, their track record in delivering results, and your chemistry. The final one is crucial. If the relationship doesn’t feel right from the outset, it’s unlikely to improve over time. But don’t take umbrage over honesty from an agency – it’s a rare quality and one that can be particularly valuable to start-ups looking to build a brand (think Don Draper and his outspoken critiques…).

Here are my top 5 suggested questions to help you assess PR agencies:

How are you going to measure your success?
Before appointing a PR firm, you need to know how it will measure success. Media coverage and Facebook Likes are common metrics for success. But you will be better off with an agency that looks further, to metrics that will contribute to your growth – such as tracking how much traffic to your website has grown or how your target client email list has grown as a direct result of a clever PR campaign. Oh, and if any agency quotes that ancient ‘advertising value equivalent’ metric at you – something the Chartered Institute of Public Relations no longer recognises as a measure – then it’s time to run for the hills.

Which media reach my target audience best?
Whether it’s traditional media coverage or a guest blogger strategy, your PR firm should have done its research to understand precisely which newspapers or websites reach your target demographic most effectively. You should look for an agency with experience of working across traditional and new media platforms – and ask for evidence!

Who will be working directly on my account?
When PR firms pitch for your business, they generally send in their top people. But you’ll probably be working most closely with more junior team members. It’s important to find out who you will be working with on a daily basis before deciding whether to hire the agency. Beware of any agency that doesn’t introduce you to your proposed main account handler in the early stages of discussions. There should be nothing to hide.

What is your social media expertise?
Whoever you hire should be completely au fait with social. Having personal Twitter profiles they use occasionally won’t cut it. What has the agency done for clients on Twitter and Facebook – and with what results? Has it developed social media competitions and other promotions? How did they work for the client in question? If you get the sense there is a traditional approach focussed on print media, then remember this quote from Socialnomics author Erik Qualman: “The ROI of social media is that your business will still exist in 5 years.”

What will you need from me to make the relationship work?
Some people hire a PR company expecting their workload to be lightened. While having additional expert resources will help you, to get the best from your agency you need to be involved in your own PR. Be prepared to speak to the media at short notice and to be interviewed for ghostwritten blog posts. Ask what level of commitment they will need, and be prepared to give it!

Sara Robinson

Sara Robinson

Sara Robinson is a communications consultant, entrepreneur, writer and local politician. She campaigns on ADHD and neurodiversity issues.
Sara Robinson


Sara Robinson is a communications consultant, entrepreneur, writer and local politician. She campaigns on ADHD and neurodiversity issues.