Checklist for Selecting a PR Firm

With 2020 marketing budgets being planned for assisted living and continuing care communities across the country, your executive team may be considering the use of a PR firm.  The comments may range from “We need some good PR for our community” to “We’re groundbreaking a new memory care community and we need some PR help.” Or, it may be “Our competitors are older but they are always in the newspaper. We are never written up by reporters.”

Whatever your community’s specific situation and PR needs, here are a few tips in selecting a PR firm to generate senior housing publicity:

  1. Before you start interviewing PR firms, decide what you are trying to accomplish. Having a clearer picture of the goals you want to accomplish will help when meeting with firms. Will social media be part of the public relations responsibilities or will you rely on print media? Are events involved such as a grand opening and Lunch and Learns?
  2. Allocate a realistic budget to PR so potential firms know from the onset if their work will fit into your budget. While some firms have a monthly retainer fee of $2,500 others can exceed a $15,000 a month. Unless you have a big budget to allocate to PR, it is better to know from the onset to eliminate the larger, more costly firms.
  3. An alternative to a public relations firm is using an internal PR person. Some communities may need both since the external specialist may be stronger with national media contacts and have greater resources than an internal employee. The internal employee who may have risen through the ranks may have a better understanding of the assisted living community’s brand and be more accessible to residents.   An advantage of outsourcing is that often you are hiring experienced professionals while an internal employee may need additional support. They get pulled in different directors while the PR firm is focused on your specific goals. We always say at the end of the day, we need to have done work for our client.
  4. Feel the chemistry. A PR person needs to be a good listener and quickly absorb your community’s strengths and weaknesses while seeing opportunities.  You need to feel that the PR firm will be there for your community and is part of your team.  Do their questions hit home or do you feel they are in left field?
  5. The pitch for new business can sound terrific when made by a company principal. PR people should be good talkers because, after all, they are communicators. But many new business pitches may be filled with the lure and promise of major media coverage. Certainly, we’d like to see our community featured in the New York Times or on NBC’s Today Show. This type of coverage is very difficult to achieve.  People become disillusioned on the value of PR when a smooth talking PR person promises the world but delivers little.
  6. Know how the PR firm manages their clients and who will handle your account. Larger firms allocate client services to junior staffers and rarely does the company principal see the client after the account is won.  You need to understand this from the start or you will be disappointed. Get to meet everyone who will be involved in your account.  If you like personalized service, a boutique firm may be better suited to your community.
  7. Know the firm’s qualifications. A PR firm that specializes in senior living may be preferable since assisted living and continuing care communities offer different opportunities than many businesses. The industry trade publications are specialized too.  The learning curve may cost you several months of fees while the PR company gets up to speed on the nuances of senior living community.
  8. The PR company needs to be able to relate to a senior living community’s residents and adult children. Often PR people develop stories from their offices but a senior living community’s PR offers opportunities to interact with elderly residents. If writing about the community will mean interviews with residents, are the PR staff members’ patient and understanding? If they are handling blogs, will they be able to put themselves in an adult child’s shoes and write about topics of interest. Similarly with Facebook…can they relate to those potential customers reading Facebook?
  9. Location and its importance. Many times we hear that we went with a “local” company rather than chose one out of the area. Certainly, a local company may have more knowledge of the area’s media but a savvy PR firm quickly can become effective from wherever they are located. Today’s newspaper reporters rely much more on emails than face-to-face meetings. Therefore, based on a company’s track record for media placement, they may not need to be located in the same city as your senior living community. We’re based in South Florida and successfully have achieved PR for clients in Arizona, California, Oregon and New York.
  10. If you are interviewing several PR firms you may want to consider a Request for Proposals (RFP) which defines your goals and what you want the PR firm to do. The RFP can be given to a few firms and better helps you see their capabilities on paper.  Each firm should be prepared to come to “pitch” you and present in person.   An alternative is to develop a list of questions that are asked to each firm to help level the playing field and in your decision.
  11. Have a letter of agreement or contract between your community and the PR firm. You need to have it specify duration, budget, hours and scope of services, reports and cancellation policies. Discuss any points that you don’t understand.
  12. It’s not unusual to check references to see if current and/or past clients were happy with the PR firm. Are these communities those that you admire?  This also is a strategy to finding a PR firm. If there is a community that you often see in the news, they may be willing to share their consultant with you. PR firms can handle more than one senior living community in an area and many times it’s to your advantage if they are already representing a community.

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