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Choosing a PR agency is a big decision, especially for those who may have had a poor experience in the past or have never conducted an agency search. Even experienced agent shoppers will find this process challenging. Let’s face it, you are making a major investment that will immediately directly affect your overall marketing budget-not to mention the future of your business. Over the years, I have participated in many RFIs, RFPs, and promotion activities. I learned that brands should ask themselves some simple questions before entering the formal process. Since these issues seem to be often overlooked, I recommend starting with some self-analysis and using the following checklist:

1. What are our overall business goals? How can public relations agencies help us achieve these goals?

Whether you are looking for more sales, increased brand awareness, or executive thought leadership, this should be the question you start and always come back to when reviewing a new PR company.

2. What kind of organization do we want to work with?

There are many different types of PR agencies—large, boutique, local, global, professional, traditional, comprehensive—the list is endless. Know what you want before starting this process. If the answer is not very clear, consider inviting different types of institutions to participate in your search.

3. What are our strengths and weaknesses, and how can agents help us show the former and improve the latter at the same time?

The role of public relations agencies should indeed be twofold. It should help show your strengths and value proposition to key audiences, while also improving your positioning and perception of weaknesses. A potential organization may have its own ideas about your strengths and weaknesses, but you should enter the process with your own ideas.

4. What is our budget?

This seems very practical, but it is often unclear or not discussed. Determining a budget early in the process will enable you to set realistic expectations for your organization and the agency you are talking to. It will also ensure that you get honest and tailored tones based on reality. The last thing you want to see is a million dollar publicity that you can never afford, and an agent can never provide services within your budget. Once you have done a little self-reflection and you are sure you know the answers to the above questions, you can start talking to the agency. This should be the fun part! A good intermediary will not make you feel that they are trying to sell you a used car, they will make you feel that you are being pursued for a meaningful relationship. Enjoy the courtship process, but ask the following questions to make sure you stay strategic and don’t encounter the wrong partner: