Entering the U.S. market as an international business or brand can be challenging—and for smaller companies, intimidating as well. This is a guide to what non-U.S. companies should know and look for when choosing a U.S. agency partner to direct their public relations strategy.
Choosing a U.S. PR Agency Partner
The key word is partner—not vendor. The agency relationship works best when there's a high level of trust and collaboration. The more open you are with your agency team, and the more the team is brought into strategic conversations, the more value your agency will add—and the more successful the engagement ultimately will be.
When searching for an agency, referrals and resources like Clutch are helpful starting points. The wisest move is likely to include some large, established players alongside a couple of smaller boutiques in your consideration set. Look for experience in your industry niche as well as case studies of clients with similar needs. Try to interview at least three well-recommended agencies; more than five is probably overkill, though. You’d be surprised at the wide range of strategies and ideas you will get with this approach.
Always remember during the selection process that you are being interviewed as well. Any agency that is good at what they do has a choice in bringing on new clients.
Even though it might be easy to think that a smaller agency might be “desperate” for any client, they often are not. Many boutiques are small by choice; their selectivity with clients is one reason they are good at what they do. Besides, why would you want to work with an agency that is desperate? Wouldn’t you rather approach this process as one that is mutually beneficial, prosperous and with longevity and potential for future growth?
Idea Grove, for example, asks all potential clients to complete a Culture Index survey to understand you better and ensure client-agency fit. We also hold firm to our retainer minimums, because we know what is necessary for a successful entry into the U.S. market. We often start engagements with well-defined, carefully scoped projects, so both parties are comfortable making a longer-term commitment.
Make sure that in addition to looking for the right fit and capabilities, you address a few logistical basics, such as:
Prerequisites to a Successful U.S. PR Program
While finding the right agency partner is key to a successful PR program when entering the U.S. market, it is not the only prerequisite. You'll be wasting your money on PR if you don't first lay the groundwork for your market launch. This includes:
U.S. PR Terms to Know
Many terms used by U.S. PR firms are not familiar to international clients, or may mean different things in different countries. Understanding the following definitions can prevent frustrating disconnects and ensure you and your U.S. agency are on the same page.
What PR Success in the U.S. Market Looks Like
Your PR strategy should be for the long term, and achieving meaningful results takes time. With patience, no vehicle is better than PR to establish market awareness and trust for your brand.
But because it's natural to seek a quick fix, many of the more "desperate" agencies lure clients with promises of guaranteed media coverage and more. If a PR agency ever "guarantees" a certain level of media coverage, you should walk away—fast. In the U.S. market, agencies that guarantee results or charge per media placement typically have under-the-table paid relationships with reporters. This can lead to less-than-strategic results, not to mention reputation management issues for your brand down the road.
Ethical PR agencies never guarantee media outcomes because there’s a wide range of factors that can impact these results. The job of the PR agency is to help you develop a strategy for influencing the best possible outcomes with reporters. However, no agency can guarantee what reporters will choose to cover.
The U.S. media market is extremely competitive. Reporters are stretched thin or covering multiple beats at once. Especially for an international company entering the U.S. market, it can take time to attract the relationships and attention you'll need to secure meaningful coverage. You have to prove yourself over time to reporters.
For most clients, securing media coverage in the first three months of the engagement is a bonus; it should not be expected. The exception is when you have a major announcement, such as significant funding or a big customer win, that can break through the clutter.
Here are some questions to consider when partnering with a PR firm to earn media coverage:
Additionally, it's important to understand that achieving media coverage alone will generally not lead to an immediate increase in sales. It has to be part of a comprehensive marketing program.
PR is not a lead generation strategy. It is a trust generation strategy. So while issuing a press release or securing a news story might not drive hundreds of visitors to your website on Day One, over time it builds the critical foundation of trust that is necessary to thrive in the U.S. market.
And that is what makes having a U.S. agency partner so valuable for non-U.S. companies. Because without trust, nothing else matters.