A Primer on PR Agencies (for the Uninitiated)


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The field of public relations is rapidly evolving, meaning that companies of all different industries are seeing value in integrating public relations expertise. Public relations support come in all different shapes and sizes, ranging from in-house corporate teams to external agencies and freelancers. Additionally, public relations agencies also specialize by industry and may have specific areas of deep expertise, from experiential events to micro-influencer outreach. When examining a PR agency, there are 3 important questions to ask as you begin to evaluate what makes one a better fit than another. 

1. What industries does the agency specialize in?

Why there are definitely full-service agencies who take on a variety of clients across industries, many have found success in specializing in a few key areas. In particular, look to see if the PR agency seems to work primarily in  a B2B or B2C space. Then take a look at their client list. PR as both a service and aspect of a businesses communication strategy may differ in terms of media considerations, current strategies and industry-specific expertise, so you want to find an agency in your sector – be it lifestyle, entertainment, technology, healthcare, or more specifically wellness, CPG, fashion jewelry, subscription boxes etc. For example lifestyle PR agencies typically focus on fashion, fitness, decor, wellness, and beauty but there are also agencies who only work with beauty brands, and still others who have made their mark working with clean beauty specifically. There is value in working with an agency with crossover expertise, and there is value in finding a firm who has already worked with brands in your exact category. Most often, consumer product objectives focus on reaching potential consumers through influencer product seeding and product placement in media. However, healthcare and real estate firms often have more of a focus on investors and stakeholders to consider as well, and so main efforts  may revolve around internal and external audience and achieving a leading position within the industry. 

2. What does the agency offer, service-wise?

With brands needing to ramp up their efforts across owned and shared media, it’s important to consider the skill-set of your firm, beyond their ability to secure publicity. These days, some of the most creative and exciting projects in public relations involve collaborations between the agency and company regarding content creation. The type of content created for clients depend greatly on the industry and its related audience.  Millennial beauty brand Glossier  for example creates a mix of content that includes product shots, storefront and retail shots, and candid reviews from customers. For Glossier, content marketing promotes not only products but the overall brand lifestyle. Non-profit Charity: Water has a different mission in their content creation; each image shares a story or location where their mission of providing clean water is carried out. 

3. Are they able to speak in the right voice?

Your PR agency is an extension of your brand, and as such, you should feel confident that they are interfacing with key audiences in a tone of voice that is reflective of the brand. Beyond simply properly explaining services or product benefits to the media, each social media platform has a different set of mostly unwritten rules regarding  tone – consider the difference between posting on Instagram versus Linkedin. A great example of a professional and successful Twitter comes from T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere who uses his account to connect directly with customers, but also transfers a sense of professionalism with a side of humor to consumers. The Sacramento Kings use Instagram to promote a future-forward sports brand, using 360-degree and AR technology composed hi-res videos to deliver timely updates to fans.

Although public relations agencies may specialize in different industries by producing unique content and targeting separate consumer pools, any agency worth its salt will be willing to connect you with current and past clients, share examples of reporting and sample work to help you understand their vision for your brand.  

Belle Zhang

Belle Zhang

Having lived in two different countries growing up, Belle's understanding of the world and cultures has been greatly influenced by not only her first-hand experiences but also by the vastly different media outlets in each country. From Myspace to Weibo, Vine to Douyin, Belle puts her hands on every social media platform accessible to her and has a passion for everything creative. Belle enjoys writing about public relations and marketing trends. Belle is currently an Account Executive at BLND Public Relations as well as a graduate student studying Strategic Public Relations at the University of Southern California.