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How to hire a PR agency – advice for universities

Whether it’s for a short-term project or long-term support, are you considering hiring a PR agency? If so, how’s the best way to go about this as a university?

From a dedicated three-month media plan to a continuing partnership, for one department to entire institutions, this guide provides some tips on how to find the right PR agency for your needs.

Once you’ve decided why it’s a good idea to engage an agency, it’s essential to start with a clear idea of the value you want a PR firm to add. Keep that in mind, then begin…

1. Look for specialists

There are plenty of PR agencies around the world. All are different – with diverse ways of working and various specialisms. While it’s easy to be impressed by well-known brands, it’s good to look beyond the big-name agencies and whizz bang websites. Look for an agency that complements the aims of your own institution. They would be happy to talk to you about their experience and their principles. Remember, the right PR consultant could be one of your greatest assets. Find one that has a proven track record in the issues you work on, and look for those who specialise in the higher education sector.

2. Look for passion

Once you find an agency that understands the sector, it’s important that their team demonstrates the same passion as you do, so feel free to question their commitment to the work. Either you’ll be assured that you’re on the same page, or you’ll quickly dismiss the agencies that aren’t for you.

3. Provide a clear brief

While it’s okay to not know exactly what you want, a good agency should be happy to work with you to help define your brief, but it’s still useful to be clear from the outset about:

Provide any relevant extra information up front too, so a PR consultancy can approach the brief in the best context. Some institutions require formal tender procedures to be followed, so it’s good to be as clear as possible about what you need and how agencies should best respond.

4. Contact a realistic number of agencies

Engaging with an endless list of agencies makes the process much harder. By researching who offers the best fit – based on recommendations, expertise and relevant track record – you can save a lot of time by going directly to no more than three or four agencies that could potentially deliver what you’re after. In our experience, in-house communications teams at universities are already stretched, so there’s no need to add any more work to the load.

5. Organise face-to-face meetings

For peace of mind, and if logistics allow it, the process should include a face-to-face discussion as well as a written proposal, so you can gain a real sense of the agency and they can learn about you too. If you’re in different countries, even a Skype call makes a big difference! It’s also worth insisting that those you meet and speak with are the people you'd actually be working with if you appointed that agency, so you can be confident about what and who you're getting.

6. Give plenty of notice

Make sure you allow agencies plenty of time to respond to your brief or apply for your tender process. They should have the time to research and develop a proposal that offers the best possible ideas for you.

7. Look for ideas, ability and a team you can work with

Don't think of proposals as a definitive plan. They are a presentation of what an agency might do for you, not a rigid strategy to follow blindly. They should be both inspiring and informative. If an agency has the experience, flexibility and character to work with you effectively, plans can be finalised as you get to know each other. As you are likely to spend a good deal of time working together, try to find individuals you feel you could build an open and honest relationship with and who will work with you to put your institution’s interests at the centre of everything they do.

8. Think about the contract period

A contract with a PR agency can be suited to cover any length of time. You have lots of options, from working on a project basis to a long-term retainer. No matter what length, you should be happy with their work and include evaluation and reviews as both you and they see fit. It’s often a good idea to work together to demonstrate how effective your collaboration has been to various stakeholders. In our experience, there are plenty of important people to impress at our client universities!

Would you like to know more about hiring a PR agency? Think BlueSky PR might be the one for you? Get in touch today by emailing me on smullins@bluesky-pr.com or call +44 (0)1582 790706

Stephanie Mullins-3

Author: Stephanie Mullins


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