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What is PR?

Public relations is a specialist management discipline that is concerned with all aspects of an organisation’s reputation and relationships. The term “public relations” includes sub-disciplines such as employee communications, investor relations, community relations, media relations, event management, issues and crisis management, and customer relations.

While there are many specialist areas within public relations, PR practitioners all have one thing in common: they help organisations to achieve their goals by influencing the attitudes, awareness or behaviour of stakeholders. The tools and tactics that PR people employ to do this are extensive and constantly growing. A typical organisation’s PR program may include: media relations, digital communications, direct mail, events, sponsorships, advertising, newsletters, brochures and annual reports, to name just a few.  

What does a public relations agency do?

A PR consultancy is a professional services firm to which you can outsource all or parts of your public relations program. A professional public relations agency will employ experienced staff who can advise you on the best strategy to achieve your goals, plan the roll-out of your campaign, and execute the tactical items required for the public relations program.  

Why do I need a PR agency? What are the benefits?

Working with a public relations consultancy such as Cole Lawson gives you access to the expertise of a team of practitioners who are at the cutting edge of their profession. Our staff manage issues, protect reputations and promote a diverse range of clients on a daily basis. This keeps our ideas fresh, our skills sharp, and our knowledge current.

Clients can use our expertise on a short-term basis or at short notice to manage an issue, complete a specific project, or support a campaign. Many organisations use an external public relations agency on an ongoing basis as an alternative to, or as a support for, in-house communicators. One of the many benefits of this is the ability for clients to “ramp up” and “wind down” the level of support required during busy or quiet times.  

How much does it cost to hire a PR company?

At Cole Lawson, we base our estimates and invoices on the amount of time our team spends working on your account. Our hourly fees for casual engagements vary depending on the intensity and duration of the project, and range from $170 - $300 per hour (ex GST) per staff member.

When Cole Lawson works with a client on a large project or an ongoing basis, we will quote a fixed project fee or a reduced-rate retainer for an ongoing engagement. Visit our Fee Structures page to learn more.  

How is Cole Lawson different from other agencies?

At Cole Lawson, we recognise that a professional PR agency should know and understand your organisation. It should employ consultants who are more than just technically skilled, creative, and good writers. The best PR consultants understand that every activity - whether it involves traditional publicity, social media or other marketing communications - should be executed for a clear reason, and with your business goals top-of-mind.

At Cole Lawson, we add value for clients by recommending and employing the best strategies to influence the most relevant people, with the right messages, for the least cost. We judge ourselves not by the output we generate, but the outcomes we create.

Finally, the Cole Lawson team prides itself on delivering the personalised service of a small business, with the leading expertise and talent often only accessible in larger agencies.  

Does PR primarily involve dealing with the media?

While media relations is one activity public relations practitioners may perform, PR is far more diverse than just achieving publicity. A typical organisation’s PR activity will most often include the strategic delivery of press releases, digital and social media, direct mail, events, sponsorships, advertising, newsletters, brochures and annual reports.  

How do I know whether I need a PR campaign or just media relations?

The answer to this question depends on the people you are trying to reach and the outcome/s you are looking to achieve. When Cole Lawson starts working with your organisation, we will analyse your goals, determine what stakeholders you need to reach to achieve those goals, and then recommend the best channel/s to communicate with those stakeholders. Traditional media may be one of those communication channels, along with social media, newsletters, direct mail, and so on.  

If I go down the media relations path, what makes a good press release?

Put simply, a great press release is one that is publishable by your desired outlets. It should adhere to the target outlets’ news values and requirements and offer the journalist or content publisher something that will inform or entertain their readers or viewers.

Creating a great and usable news release requires your PR professional to understand news values and to know what a particular outlet will want and need - and when they will need it.  

Does Cole Lawson Communications guarantee media coverage?

While we make every effort to achieve clients' desired publicity results, like all PR consultancies, the end result of Cole Lawson's work is beyond our direct control. Therefore, we are unable to guarantee that a particular media release will be used by a media outlet, that any use of the press release will conform to the wording provided in the press release, or that media coverage will deliver sales results.  

If I put out a press release, is there a risk I will get negative media coverage?

In any interaction with independent third-parties, including journalists and bloggers, there is always a chance that their coverage of your story will not conform to your expectations. And, certainly, there is no obligation on a publisher to use your media release as you present it, or even to give you coverage.

However, while there is always a risk in “putting yourself out there”, undertaking regular media relations is critical to an organisation’s reputational strategy. By fostering relationships when you have a positive story to tell – and demonstrating that you are an open and facilitative organisation – you are more likely to develop relationships that will serve you well in difficult times.

As part of our engagement with clients, we endeavour to outline the risks and potential outcomes of engaging with the media and present alternative communication tactics where necessary.  

Is advertising more effective than PR?

Advertising is one tool in the marketing and PR toolkit and its cost-effectiveness should be assessed alongside other tactics. With any campaign, it is important to note that stakeholders are rarely influenced by receiving a message through one channel. Most campaigns require a mix of tactics – such as advertising, combined with social media, publicity and direct communications – to influence audience attitudes, awareness and behaviour in a meaningful way.  

How does PR differ from marketing?

Marketing involves positioning an organisation, its brand and, ultimately, its products or offering to its consumers or market. It is foremost a sales or revenue-focused discipline. Public relations looks more broadly at what communication strategies and tactics are needed to assist an organisation to achieve all its business goals. This can include your PR team managing relationships with investors, staff, the community, politicians, or any other stakeholder group whose attitudes, awareness or behaviours impact on an organisation.  

Should I hire a PR agency that specialises in my industry?

When choosing a public relations agency, it is important to find the right balance between core skills and industry experience. Having direct industry experience can help your consultants to quickly identify relevant channels for your organisation, understand key issues and stakeholders in the sector, and work with specialist terminology. However, it is equally important that your PR agency has the right skills to undertake the type of campaign you need. Sometimes, the best campaigns come about from looking at a problem in a new way - such as approaching a client's problem using lessons learned in another industry. 

What is the normal length of a PR retainer?

At Cole Lawson, retainer contracts are optional. In fact, we only recommend that clients enter into a retainer after we have worked together long enough to determine that our agency and your organisation are a good fit. We can then negotiate a suitable retainer contract with you that could range from three to 24 months, depending on your needs.  Visit our page on our fee structures for more information.

How do you measure PR results?

The type of measurements we use to evaluate the effectiveness of a PR activity depend on: 1) what type of tactics are used in your campaign; and 2) what the objectives of your campaign involve.

Examples of PR measurements could be:

  • A campaign that aims to change public opinion about a particular issue could be evaluated by surveys taken before and after the public relations activity;
  • An internal communication campaign that aims to reduce staff turnover could be evaluated through employee feedback and staff turnover measurements;
  • A media relations campaign designed to increase usage of a particular service could be evaluated by the placement and content of stories in target media outlets, along with usage figures for the service.

Where a campaign involves a number of tactics, Cole Lawson works with our clients to try and build evaluation mechanisms into each tactic so that we can measure audience engagement with each activity. For example, in a PR awareness campaign involving direct mail letters and social media, we may use a special web address on the letters and each social media site so we can measure the relative performance of each activity.  

Can I pay a PR agency based on results?

Public relations is a professional services discipline and, as such, by engaging with an agency you are “buying” the agency’s time, expertise and ideas. Therefore, reputable PR agencies including Cole Lawson Communications will require you to pay for the time the firm’s consultants spend working on your account, or for the delivery of a set scope of work. Furthermore, the factors that impact a campaign’s success are rarely within the sole control of your PR agency; for example, in the event of a media launch, your PR agency could do the best possible job to achieve publicity for you, only to find that a major, breaking story dominates the day’s news coverage.  

Will going with a big agency get me big (or better) results?

There are both positives and negatives to working with big public relations agencies. For instance, in a big agency, your account may get “lost in the crowd” and you may not feel that you get the individual attention or level of priority that you need. On the other hand, a bigger agency may offer you access to a larger team of people and, potentially, a larger range of services.

At Cole Lawson, we think we have achieved the ideal balance. We are a mid-sized team, but we hire outstanding practitioners who have excelled in Australia and overseas. However, we can still offer our clients the personal attention, care and flexibility that they expect from a small business. As a result, we work with large, global clients, as well as small and emerging organisations. View our portfolio for more information. 

How can I be confident I'm choosing the right agency?

When assessing which PR agency is the right fit for your organisation, you should consider the agency’s range of services, industry experience, size, fee structures, and portfolio of work. Once you find an agency that is a good fit for your needs across all of these areas, it is important to ensure that the consultancy’s team members give you confidence and are professional and pleasant to deal with. Make sure you:

  1. Meet or speak with the specific people who will work on your account.
  2. Understand the chain of command within the agency, and who will be supervising and providing quality control on your account.
  3. Agree on clear expectations for how you and your agency will communicate and share information.
  4. Discuss and document procedures and protocols for how you will work together and approve output.
  5. Discuss what issues, if any, may prevent the agency from achieving your objectives.

Make sure that you do not sign off on a letter of engagement or scope of work until you are comfortable that it meets your brief and that you understand what you will be getting for your money.  

Should my PR agency be accredited?

Cole Lawson strongly recommends that clients work with PR agencies who are members of, and accountable to, a professional body. In Australia, the peak body for PR professionals is the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA). Unlike the requirement for law, accounting and financial advisory firms, it is not compulsory for PR firms to be accredited or to employ qualified staff. Firms that are PRIA Registered Consultancies must adhere to a code of ethics, be directed by a suitably qualified professional, and aspire to meet the highest professional standards.  

Who will be working on my account?

For each client, Cole Lawson assigns an account manager and one or more team members to support them. We assign account managers and team members based on their experience working on similar projects, or their experience working in your industry. You can view the profiles of your account team members here.  

Can I do my own PR, or do I need an agency?

In deciding whether to hire a PR agency, your organisation needs to make an informed decision about investment and return. You should look at the estimated amount that we recommend you need to spend to achieve your goals, and what outcomes will be needed to make that investment worthwhile.

You should keep in mind that PR needs to be a long-term investment for many businesses; it is rare that one month’s activity or one press release will achieve an overwhelming and lasting impact towards achieving long-term goals.  

How closely do we need to work with you?

No PR agency can do its job without close collaboration with clients. At the start of your project, we will need detailed information from you to help us understand your organisation, the project, and your goals. As our partnership continues, we will need to work closely with you to stay up-to-date with what is happening in your organisation, your industry, and to get feedback and approvals from you.

The best client relationships occur when our clients treat us as an extension of their teams and keep us in the loop, include us in meetings, respond promptly to correspondence, and flag any ideas or upcoming opportunities and issues with us well ahead of time.

The Cole Lawson staff are experienced account managers and work with clients to ensure their involvement is efficient and effective.  

Does the work Cole Lawson produces for my business become the property of my business or Cole Lawson?

When you work with Cole Lawson Communications, we grant you a perpetual licence to use the material we produce within your organisation. This means that you can use our work as if it is owned by your organisation, but cannot sell it to third parties. For example, if we produce a media release for you, it’s fine for you to reproduce that material in other organisational documents, such as newsletters, annual reports, websites, and blogs. However, if another organisation approaches you and offers you money to reuse your press release interstate, you cannot sell our work to them without our consent.