How To Choose a D.C. Communications Agency
So you’ve decided that your business or company is in need of communications services, but aren’t quite sure how to go about selecting, or even finding, a D.C. communications agency?
You’re not alone. Choosing a vendor to provide communications, marketing, branding, and publication relations support can be a daunting task—especially in a city like Washington, D.C. that is saturated with communications agencies offering all kinds of services.
Confounding the issues is that D.C. continues to be a Mecca for communications and public relations professionals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the city employs more than 208,000 public relations professionals—more than any other U.S. metro area. Many of these professionals work in government agencies, nonprofits, private corporations, and agencies throughout the region. So how exactly does one sift through to find the communications agency or vendor right for them?
- Know What You’re Looking For
A simple Google search for communications agencies in Washington, D.C. can yield an overwhelming amount of results, but how do you know which is right for you?
It’s always best to understand the different types of services on the communications spectrum and what your needs are. Is your business looking to engage the media with content or representatives/thought leaders from your organization? This can include articles placed in publications or having a CEO, or Policy Director quoted or interviewed in radio or broadcast segments.
Perhaps your organization needs a digital marketing plan that includes a revamped website, robust SEO-driven blog content, and an engaging social media plan? These are all very different types of services that cater to the strengths of different agencies.
“The best clients have a strong sense of what kind of communication services they need when they reach out to us,” said Joshua Garner, a senior consultant at HiveMind Strategies. “We have some clients wanting a D.C. firm with experience in engaging Capitol Hill publications—that’s a very specific ask that helps narrow down their search. Other times, we may have clients from the non-profit sector wanting a complete digital media plan for an upcoming conference—that helps us determine what their needs are and what our capabilities are to service those needs.”
Garner said the best agencies will have experience walking clients through the process of how they can serve their needs, but added that searching a prospective agency’s website to see what their specialties are is always a good starting point to see if their experience matches your needs.
- Know What You’re …Not Looking For
D.C. is home to some of the largest communications and public relations agencies in the world. These multi-national conglomerates have deep pockets and lots of cash to spend promoting themselves on search engines like Google. Unfortunately, this can put smaller, more moderately-priced, specialty (or boutique) agencies at a disadvantage of being seen by potential clients searching for budget-friendly services. Garner said it can be a pretty intimidating experience for individuals and organizations that are just breaking into the world of consultant and vendor-driven communications services.
“We often get inquiries from organizations that don’t know much about how to select a communications agency so they turn to Google and get slammed by the big boys,” he said. “Unless you have a budget in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, I’d recommend digging deeper into your Internet search for smaller firms.”
Garner said it’s important to know your budget and be comfortable with communicating it to potential communication agencies or firms—this will quickly help you realize if a firm is out of your price range and let the firm know how to scale services to fit your needs.
- An Agencies Time and Ideas Are Money
So you’ve followed points 1 & 2: you’ve narrowed down what kind of services you’re looking for, weeded out agencies that may not fit your needs or budget, and have found a handful of agencies just right for you—now what?
Garner said it’s not unusual for more savvy organizations to put out RFPs either on public boards, similar to job postings, or send them directly to agencies. He cautioned that while RFPs can be a great way to attract vendors, it also be a very taxing experience on agencies, sucking up time and resources forcing some to just opt out.
“We were recently contacted by a mid-size corporation about responding to a rather lengthy RFP that wanted our tax information, intellectual property (ideas), references from extremely specific client types, and it included a very tight deadline,” he said. “We ultimately decided that responding to the RFP with no guarantee of feedback or trust that our ideas wouldn’t be taken, was not worth it. Ultimately the organizations had to extend the RFP deadline—my guess is because other agencies decided it wasn’t worth it either.”
Garner said he recommends RFPs be more task or goal-focused rather than extremely niche to get the best response from agencies.
Hopefully, the tips above will make your communications agency search a little easier—remember to always do research before a decision is made. Never be afraid to drop a prospective agency an e-mail or call to inquire about their services. Most agencies have a buyer’s journey process in place to step potential clients through the process of selecting an agency or firm.
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