Looking for a Public Relations Firm? Hire an Advocate, Not a Publicist

One valuable asset public relations consultants can bring is their own credibility with reporters. Credibility with journalists is not easily gained, and it’s earned through honesty and transparency with reporters over sustained periods of time. But, credibility doesn’t necessarily equate to the media reporting what you want. That’s why you always want to make sure you hire a PR consultant who plays the role of advocate – someone who is out there fighting for you, your brand, or your cause – and not someone concerned about preserving a “good” relationship with reporters. The former is someone who is on your side; the latter can be a walking conflict.

Consultants sometimes sell themselves by touting their relationships with media, but two points are important. First, having a “relationship” with a reporter is not the same as having credibility with that journalist. Second, while those relationships might exist, you shouldn’t hire a consultant if they’re unwilling to risk those relationships by battling for your interests.

For those kinds of consultants – publicists whose principal value seems to be their relationships – there’s an inherent conflict of interest between their services for you and their livelihoods. If what they’re mostly selling is relationships – if that’s their chief asset – can you rely on them to jeopardize those for you.

To be clear, you need an advocate for any form of PR and not just crisis communications. Even a positive piece can lead a reporter to ask PR consultants tough questions. Good relationships don’t stop reporters from reporting and doing their jobs – from exploring the facts and publishing what they find. Anyone who tells you otherwise is insulting the reporter with whom they purport to have a relationship, and you should question their credibility.

Accordingly, your consultant should be someone willing to challenge a reporter and go up the chain of command if the reporter is getting the facts wrong. Here are some questions to ask a PR firm during the hiring process, no matter how benign you consider your potential assignment:

  1. If a PR firm is emphasizing its relationships, what else do they bring to the table?
  2. What would they do if a reporter seems to misunderstand the facts and context about a story? Is the consultant willing to go to a reporter’s editor? And what if that does not help?
  3. How many times has the consultant gone up the chain of command at a news organization to advocate for a client? Ask them to share an anonymized case study with you.

For perspective, when a PR consultant suggests a relationship with a reporter can get you a certain result, that consultant is suggesting something fundamentally wrong with that reporter. Ask yourself if that rings true. We’ve never seen it, and we’ve been on all sides of that equation. So, what does that say about that consultant? If you hire an advocate, you’ll never have to worry about it.