To help you wade through potential candidates in your automotive PR agency search, you might start by contacting a few editors from key automotive trade media for the names of the top three PR firms they like to deal with.
Then, once you have that list of recommendations, visit the agencies’ websites and check out their client lists and their team members’ backgrounds. This will give you some indication of whether or not the agency and its staff have substantial and, more important, recent automotive experience. Do they represent companies like yours or companies that are well-known?
Once you’ve got that info, it’s time to talk with the agencies themselves.
Here are a few key questions that will help you determine the right automotive PR agency for your company:
1. Which and how many industry events does your firm work for their clients each year? The answer can help quantify the firm’s experience at key industry events. Do they know the ropes and the subtleties of key conferences and trade shows? Get some specifics. Also, ask which and how many events they attend each year that are not charged back to clients. This can show the agency’s true commitment to knowing and understanding the industry.
2. What percentage of the agency’s billings comes from the automotive supplier industry? The more, the better, meaning they spend more time in your industry, and probably have a better handle on the trends, issues and media, so they can be more efficient and effective for you.
3. What’s the average length of the firm’s relationship with its clients? If it’s generally just a couple of years or less, it could indicate the agency didn’t deliver on its promise … or that the client’s and the agency’s expectations did not match.
4. What do the agency’s current and former client contacts say about the firm? Current clients can give good insight, and former client contacts who have moved on can often be more candid and open about pluses and minuses of the agency.
5. What experience does the PR firm have in your company’s specific product category … or with other auto suppliers that have similar situations? Lack of such experience isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but similar experience can definitely help.
6. Does the firm study the auto industry and understand the key issues and trends? Has it done any proprietary research within the industry? Does it post and comment on industry trend-related content? You’ll want to get the agency you select up to speed on your company, but it will be more cost-effective for you if you don’t have to pay to get the agency up to speed on the industry as well.
7. What’s the firm’s bench depth in terms of account personnel? Does the entire staff have automotive PR experience or just a few members? At some firms, the people pitching your account may not actually end up doing the account work. Also, if your account lead is unavailable, will the next member of the team have the experience and knowledge to help you?
Once you have answers to these questions, you should be able to narrow your search down to a few viable candidates for further in-depth discussions.
Ultimately, the key factors in selecting the right agency for your company will depend upon three C’s — the agency’s competence in your segment, the agency’s credibility in the marketplace and the chemistry between you and the people who will work on your account. Hopefully, the questions above will help you fathom the first two.