If you’re an accounting firm in a position to work with an outside PR agency, good for you! Working with a PR firm is a great way to expand your own firm’s reach, showcase your thought leadership, and create content through media placement for your website and social media. Clips can be invaluable pieces of collateral when going out on pitches and create instant credibility. Just keep in mind that most PR firms are not magic makers and will succeed only if the direction is clear and expectations are managed. As a journalist who went in-house at a midsized accounting firm and ran the day-to-day relationship with our PR firm, I can tell you this – be firm, be real, and make sure everyone is on the same page with deliverables. Here are five tips to consider when bringing on a PR firm. • Know what you want. Seriously. Are you looking to raise your profile in the media? Do you need help refining your brand message? Do you need media coaching? Content creation? Assistance de-escalating a potential crisis? These are all different things. Think about what your goals and objectives are before getting you start interviewing candidates. It will save you time and energy in the end. • Decide on deliverables early. Will your firm make a set number of pitches to the media? Will they target (and hit) a number of placements? Will they send you a placement and clip report quarterly? Yearly? Negotiate this up front and get it written into the contract. I recommend weekly meetings with your PR team so they can keep you updated on their activity. It’s not enough to say “we want the program to be successful.” Success, it should go without saying, means very different things to different people. Be clear about what you expect when, and get rid of any confusion. • Know your partners’s skill set. We all want to showcase our partners as thought leaders and exceptional speakers and writers. That said, partners have different skills. Some will be ready to speak with members of the media, others won’t. Some will have no problem whipping up a bylined article, others would rather stick to the numbers. That’s OK. Figure out who does what best and use that information to build your program. • That said, train your partners. I can’t stress this enough. Reporters want information. Your partners and experts need to know how to talk to them. Long, rambling stories are often not what journalists want. Make sure they answer the questions they are asked. Short, concise answers work best. Let your partners know that they may get questions beforehand, they may not. They may have an opportunity to fact check, they may not. This is all part of working with the media. And remember: Be accessible (reporters often work on short deadlines) and dependable – always, always, always keep any commitments you make with a journalist. You want to build your credibility, not disappoint and be unreliable. • Have a realistic budget. We all know budget concerns are real and accounting firms in particular are conservative when it comes to marketing. If you are a midsized accounting firm, expect to pay at least $10K a month for a high level media relations program. Most PR firms will want to put an executive (managing director or higher) on the account and if they don’t, consider that a red flag. Working with a PR firm has its advantages, but only if you are prepared. Be sure to vet your prospective team carefully and know what you want. Remember, it’s a partnership – set the tone for a collaborative relationship, create milestones for success, keep those lines of communication open and you’ll be off to a great start!