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10 questions you need to ask before hiring a PR agency in China

One of the main challenges you can expect to face in a global expansion is finding the right partners to work with. The perfect fit is hard to come by — but can confidently lead the way to your objectives.


Your choice of a PR agency in China can greatly influence your media relations and the success of your introduction to this market. The right partner will guide you and steer the strategy as you position yourself locally, provide you with their resources, and build a solid foundation for you to grow. So it pays to do your research early on.


To start on the right foot, these are the most important questions you’ll need answers to before hiring a PR agency in China.


Ask these questions internally


1. What do you need from a PR agency in China?


Before you start your PR agency search, define what services you need from them. This will help drive your initial research and make comparisons based on what each agency has to offer.


You may be interested in a full-service agency to handle all of your marketing needs in China. Or perhaps you want a highly specialized PR agency that only handles your media relations in China. Ultimately, there’s no wrong choice; only your individual business goals will dictate what works best for your company.


2. What does success look like to you?


Similar to the previous point, you must have a measurable goal for your PR in China. Internally, this means setting a clear metric of success and being upfront about your expectations with the agencies you shortlist. The OKR model is a practical way to set ‘Objectives and Key Results’ to help you define the metrics for your PR campaign.


Most agencies will be open to discussing your KPIs and how feasible they are — or help you adjust expectations based on best practices. Ultimately, you want to work with the one whose experience aligns with your objective and can realistically help you achieve it.


3. What is your budget for hiring a PR firm?


You can approach your search in two different ways:


  • First, you can define a firm budget and reach out to agencies inquiring about the type of services you’ll be able to obtain with it. The main benefit of this approach is that you’ll be in control of your investment.

  • Alternatively, you can define a clear scope and priorities for your China PR and marketing and request proposals and budget based on that scope. Approaching agencies with a clear scope (and not a dollar amount) gives them more freedom to prepare a proposal tailored to your needs — and gives you an idea of what a realistic budget looks like in China.


One way you can get the best of both approaches is by setting a budget range rather than a fixed amount and asking agencies to provide alternatives for the high and low ends of the range. This way, you get to compare the different pricing options available and choose one that gives you the best value for your budget.


4. What is your ideal relationship with your PR agency in China?


Time zone differences, local customs, and business practices may present a challenge when working with international teams. To prevent this from affecting your success, you want to work with an agency whose communication practices are aligned with yours.


Do you prefer personalized service with daily updates and frequent calls? Or are you ok with a more hands-off approach and bi-weekly or monthly status updates? Similarly, you’ll have to consider whether you want to manage a local Chinese-speaking agency or you prefer an English-speaking agency to take full ownership of your PR in China. All of these factor into your choice of a service provider.


5. Are you active enough in China to make the PR investment worth it?


Simply translating your current efforts to Chinese won’t be enough to keep the media in China interested in your business. Local relevancy is key in ensuring effective PR in China. Your PR strategy might be effective in the first 6 months when you launch your brand in China, but as you start growing, you will need local business updates to keep the media interested. Remember, your PR and marketing team are there to amplify what your business is doing and make sure it reaches the right ears.


Or if you’re starting from scratch, your agency should be able to build a strong foundation with your messaging, and content creation & distribution.


Ask these questions to the PR agency


6. Who will be on my team?


The team structure depends largely on each agency. With one agency, you may work with one Account Manager who is responsible for managing your account as a single touchpoint. The tasks are passed down to different specialists and outsourced freelancers or contractors. In other cases, you may work directly with each specialist in charge of different parts of your external communications: media relations, social media, events, etc.


Discussing this with the agency will help you identify whom you’ll be working with on a daily basis and how accessible they will be.


7. How do you typically collaborate with clients?


Once you’ve decided on how you want to work with your PR team, it’s time to ask the PR agencies how they typically work with clients. You want to make sure their work style is aligned with your needs.


Additionally, your agency should give you a clear workflow and a set plan. This includes:


  • What milestones you can expect for each time frame.

  • Who will be in charge of your account and what they will be doing.

  • Whom do you have access to in case you need anything (will it be the strategist who crafted your pitch or an account manager?)

  • How success will be measured.


If you’ve never worked with an agency before, this is a great time to align your internal expectations if you see a big gap between your ideal collaboration style and what agencies offer in real life.


8. What is your relevant industry experience?


Depending on what you do, you may find that hiring a small, niche PR agency is more beneficial than a big, general one. For one, they will have a strong network with specialized media coverage rather than mass news outlets, which can make a big difference in whom you’re reaching. Plus, the agency will have worked with other businesses similar to yours, which means you can leverage their past experiences to grow your own.


An experienced PR agency in China can showcase their clients’ success through case studies and client base, so make sure to request those along with their portfolio.


However, don’t reject an agency just because they don’t have case studies to show. First, give them the opportunity to show their expertise in other areas reflected in their proposal. Receive their proposal and consider it before making your final choice.


9. How strong is your media network?


It’s not enough to have a long list of media contacts for a PR specialist. Public relations in China, as anywhere else, are all about the media relations and network your PR team has cultivated. Without good media connections, the most ambitious PR strategy can flop.


A successful PR agency in China is one that fosters long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with journalists and media outlets. This means they have access to exclusive media resources and can secure more media opportunities for their clients.


10. What local resources do you have?


This is one of the most important aspects of hiring a PR agency with local operations. Partnering with a local agency gives you access to their resources and connections inside and out of the media landscape: You can benefit by working with vendors, service providers, and other agency partners for your overall marketing and business development in China.


Your choice of PR Agency will make a big difference when entering the market in China


Before making any agency hiring decisions, you want to have a clear picture of your marketing and PR objectives, which you can achieve by answering these questions internally and in your conversations with the agencies. This is particularly important for retainer engagements where you’ll be working with the same team on an ongoing basis.


Ask yourself if the agency is equipped with the resources and expertise you need to achieve your objectives. Think about where the partnership can go in the future. And most importantly, consider the human side: Can you see yourself collaborating with this team in the long run? Does the chemistry feel right in your conversations with them? Your ideal PR partner in China should feel like an extension of your team and be completely transparent in communications After all, they’re your eyes and ears in this new venture.


At Tribe China, we partner with you to refine and achieve your PR objectives. Book a consultation to learn more about how we can work together.