Selecting an agency is a biggie! A PR/comms firm will not only handle the reputation of your company through owned, earned and paid communications, it is also responsible for managing core messaging to the press and raising positive awareness of the brand.

Therefore, the client-agency relationship should be one of mutual respect that feeds collaborative and creative work from both parties, whilst remaining productive and cost-effective for the client.

Selection process

The process you follow in order to select a perfect agency must fit with your own internal culture and approach to communications. If your firm is a rather corporate operation with a set way in which press releases are approved, distributed and followed-up, the agency selection process you’ll adopt will be quite different than if you’re an exciting growth-stage start-up firm learning as you go.

All companies will generally select from the following steps when setting the process for agency selection:

  • Clarifying your internal needs and preferences
  • Industry review
  • Formulating your brief
  • Information gathering
  • Shortlisting to 6 agencies
  • Request for proposals
  • Chemistry check
  • A 3-way pitch
  • Negotiation of terms and contract
  • Appoint

Clarifying internal needs and preferences

There can many differing specialities within PR and communications agencies. PR firms may specialise based on industries served, a particular corporate growth phase, or particular service offering.  Whilst its worth taking these considerations into account, it is also important to keep on top of the changing landscape of communications and be open to a broad range of agencies.

Industry review

The marketing and communications landscape changes daily. The B2B and B2C public relations industry is no longer purely about securing press coverage. Instead, communications agencies like Ranieri carefully plan and activate integrated campaigns combining PR, social media, influencer relations and content to maximise outcomes.

This means rather than simply projecting approved messages via media vehicles, look for an agency that will counsel you on audience and Industry insights, creative communications and how to set and properly measure KPIs.

Take a look at agencies who have managed to successfully pivot their strategies and services and helped their clients navigate their changing communications needs during the pandemic.

Formulating your brief

The first step is to develop an agency brief. When preparing the agency brief, clients must challenge themselves to answer difficult questions, especially those around budgets, brand standards, timelines, processes and deliverables. Without this basic information, most agencies will find it difficult to respond appropriately to the brief. In fact, without this information most agencies will not have adequate information to gain internal approval and support to respond.

Information Gathering

The agency landscape is constantly changing. Agencies open and close offices and win new clients, agencies’ allegiances change via mergers & acquisitions and their strengths and capabilities evolve through hiring and attrition.

Given the volume of change in the industry, especially recently, what was true during a client’s last agency search 2-3 years prior may now be out of date. It is important for those responsible for agency selection to start with an open mind and review PR industry trends and notable agencies broadly from the start. Team members in charge of agency selection within client firms must review:

  • their own, internal working processes and cultural norms
  • which firms are working with their nearest competitors and what those agencies have recently accomplished on the competing firms’ behalf?
  • industry trends, especially tactics within early-adopter industries (hint: technology brands & agencies tend to be ahead of the curve)
  • a realistic average monthly or annual spend necessary to achieve their internal PR objectives

In this way, client-side marketers in charge of agency selection will be re-educating themselves on the environment, generally, as well as what types of questions may be critical to ask in order to address their PR needs 3-5 years into the future.


Through the information gathering and brief formulation process, the aspects you feel are critical to an agency’s success will become clear. These are the aspects that agencies will be judged against for shortlisting. Many clients choose to shortlist agencies based on some of the following criteria:

  • capabilities
  • declared specialty
  • presence of key staff
  • location
  • size; average client spend, annual billings or number of staff
  • industry influence
  • cultural fit
  • relevant and recent experience in reaching similar audiences or working with other client firms in the category

It’s generally advised to gather the answers to as many of the above questions via passive, but reliable means (websites &information services), making contact only when certain that a firm could be a fit or when impossible to gather this information via other means. Arrive at a list of no more than six firms to contact and learn more.

“Why just 6?’

Though inviting more than six firms may be tempting, keeping to a set of six allows clients adequate time to respond to agencies in a timely way when questions arise and make the process less cumbersome and disclosing this limited number of agency participants will encourage those which are a part of the shortlist to put their best effort forward. To include additional firms would likely result in lacklustre agency response as they would have little chance of securing adequate internal manpower and support to participate in the pitch.


As a first step, it’s a good idea to disclose your firm’s identity and ask each firm to sign a non-disclosure agreement if you feel it’s necessary and appropriate. With these boxes checked, you’re able to move through to the fun bit!

Request For Proposal (RFP)

A typical RFP will ask an agency to outline their:

  • industry experience
  • proposed approach and perceived challenges for the client brand
  • proposed team (providing bios for each)
  • sample costings based on the deliverables and expectations outlined within the PR brief

Agencies may take the opportunity to provide their standard credentials deck with only a few bits changed out to customise the presentation. It is a good idea for clients to select 4-5 questions that will require bespoke thinking and research by the agency, but ideally not take the agency endless hours of time to prepare.

While it’s tempting to prescribe how agencies must submit their response, clients are best served by allowing agencies ‘rope’ to present themselves in a way which befits their culture and ethos.

The cultural insight allowed by this dose of ambiguity within the brief, alone, can make the RFP stage worthwhile as agencies’ responses may vary widely and show much of their internal approach and ways of thinking.

Chemistry check

A chemistry check is the opportunity to meet each of the shortlisted agencies either by phone or in person in order to check their culture, personalities and approach. In many cases, these sessions are held live under the guise of being a question/answer session to clarify the brief.

Reducing the List

Upon reviewing the six agencies’ proposals, client firms will typically reduce the number of contenders to 3, or 4 if the incumbent firm is also part of the set.

Pitch presentation

The best client/agency matches result from a selection process in which the clients invest just as much time and effort as the participating agencies. It’s a bit like dating. There needs to be a mix of interaction via email, phone and in person and in both formal and informal environments. And while it’s understood that agencies must be able to present their case to clients, they should not do all the talking.

Agencies must also demonstrate an ability to listen and retain information and to ask good questions. This information should be processed to gain insights and actionable strategies and tactics that will resonate with the client firm’s target audiences. And client firms must demonstrate an openness and willingness to disclose information, which will allow their agencies to be successful.

 Negotiation of terms and contract

Costs matter, but they’re not the only technical aspect to consider in the final stages of PR agency selection. It’s also important to disclose communication preferences, measures by which agencies (and clients) will be judged, cultural norms within each organisation, approval processes, etc.


You’ll be ecstatic to announce the good news to the winning agency and know exactly how to do it when the time comes. Do remember though to set expectations for whether, when and how the award may be announced by the winning agency.

And, just as importantly, don’t break up with the other firms lightly. By this point each firm will have invested a lot of time and hope toward addressing your business and will deserve insightful feedback regarding the impression they made and how they could have improved. Share as much as you can while, of course, being professional and sensitive to their egos.