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Question:

How do you know if your PR company is worth the investment? Our business was up in December, but that's typical.

– Liliana Ramos, Owner, Los Mariachis, Brooklyn, NY

Answer:

PR firms can be a bit like your exterminators—when they are doing their job well, you don’t think that much about them. When there is a problem, they can be a lifesaver for your business.

What you are asking is a familiar ROI (return-on-investment) question. A PR contract can be a sizable expense. Reviewing sales history, questioning first-time guests about how they learned about your restaurant, or tying a PR campaign to a trackable promotion like a coupon code or Facebook “like” can help you to separate your usual business from a bump brought by your PR firm.

Lisa Donoughe, president and founder of Watershed Communications, says, "I think if you're asking that question, you know the answer. Good PR firms that deliver exceptional results, collaborate with their clients and regularly talk about things like what's working and what's not. Butts in seats is of course the main objective but the investment in good PR should be meaningful in a more nuanced way to a business. "

Donoughe suggests that restaurateurs ask a few key questions: “Do I have confidence that my account rep ‘Gets it?’ and understands how our food and experience fit into the larger culinary landscape of my neighborhood, city, state?
Have we been asked to participate in cool events more now than before we started working with the PR firm? Does the firm read stories and trend pieces and share new ideas regularly? Is the follow-through and attention to detail adding value and helping me stay ahead of the many moving pieces of my marketing activities? At the end of the day, knowing that your PR firm is adding value is mostly a gut thing. If there's hesitation, it's time to shop for new folks or do it yourself."

PR reps typically manage multiple clients and your challenge is to consistently remain their top priority. I recommend short-term contracts, frequently renewed, rather than a long-term retainer. In addition to going with your gut as Donoughe suggests, ask for a report. At renewal time, ask them to detail what they did and its effectiveness so you have additional data points to make an informed decision.

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