Six Secrets of Top Washington PR Agencies
By Christina Nyquist, PRSA-NCC Marketing Committee
Washington, D.C., is an exciting place to work. Public relations professionals in our area are charged with communicating about some of our world’s most critical issues, from new vaccines to public education initiatives. These stories can change lives—but often get lost in today’s busy media environment. That’s why organizations turn to public relations agencies to help make sure their message gets to the audiences who need it most.
But what makes a great PR firm? More importantly, what can we learn from some of D.C.’s top PR pros? Each year, the annual Thoth Awards recognize outstanding Washington communicators, and in 2018, PRSA-NCC has introduced a new team award for PR agencies. With two weeks left to submit entries, I checked in with past Thoth Award winners to learn how they craft effective campaigns that not only meet but elevate their clients’ goals. Here are six traits that stood out.
A Focus on Client Service
Great PR agencies keep the focus on their clients, taking care to be responsive and keep communication lines open. “Clients appreciate the attention they and their project are given,” says News Generation’s Kelsey Pospisil O’Planick. “Accessibility and undivided time are critical in a successful project and in nurturing a relationship with a client. Clients have told us they appreciate how seamless the process of working with us is, and that we are very upfront and transparent the entire time.”
A Thoughtful Approach
Organizations value agencies that steer them in the right direction. Sometimes, that may even mean being able to “say no” or suggest a new approach. “We are a media relations firm that strictly works to get clients earned coverage,” emphasizes Kelsey. “We love brainstorming with clients to help them pull out the most newsworthy elements of their story, because ultimately we want them to be happy and we want to keep journalists happy by offering them great content.”
Experience in the Field
D.C. is famous for the often nuanced and complicated issues organizations must address. When it comes to telling these niche stories, Hager Sharp’s Debra Silimeo says it’s important to look for firms that are familiar with the field. “Look for an agency that works deeply in your space or has the special expertise to meet your current need—whether it’s public health, education, social change, product marketing, or crisis help,” she advises. “Then find people you can trust and like to work with. You might not get to pick your family, but you can pick your consultants!”
A Forward-Thinking Outlook
Today more than ever, change is the one constant in the communications profession. Agencies need to stay on top of new storytelling platforms and a quickly evolving media landscape. Kelsey says News Generation stays ahead of the curve by tapping into the region’s resources. “We’re lucky to live in D.C. where we have a plethora of innovative and on-trend professional development opportunities. Groups like PRSA-NCC and Washington Women in Public Relations are invaluable to communicators who live and/or work in the D.C. area.”
Doing the Homework
Debra says it was Hager Sharp’s behind-the-scenes legwork that made the difference in winning the 2017 “Best of Show” award for its HPV Vaccine is Cancer Prevention campaign with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Research is the foundation for crafting effective campaigns,” she counsels. “Know your audiences. Bring a diverse group of staff expertise to the table to get the best ideas. And build in measurement along the way, so you know whether you are being effective.” The agency’s research showed that healthcare provider recommendation is the single biggest predictor of vaccination, so Debra explains, “We developed a campaign that began with a heavy focus on providers and strong peer-to-peer clinician engagement before expanding the audience to include parents of adolescents.”
Above all, leading PR professionals are driven by a love for what they do—and that shines through in the final product. I asked both Debra and Kelsey what excites them about going to work every day.
- Debra: “PR is a great field where you can be constantly challenged by change and get joy and meaning from your work. Mix in a great team at Hager Sharp and clients who want to make a positive difference in the world, and voila! Wake up and seize the day!”
- Kelsey: “The fact that every day I know I have the opportunity to both contribute and learn is huge to me. I’m fortunate to enjoy my co-workers and work for a company that values building a strong internal culture. And all of that translates into delivering strong projects for clients.”
There’s still time!
If your agency worked on a standout campaign this year, you still have two weeks to get your application in. Compile and submit your Thoth Awards entries here by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, August 1.
Thanks to Kelsey Pospisil O’Planick and Debra Silimeo for sharing their insight for this article. Kelsey is the director of marketing and operations at News Generation. Debra is executive vice president at Hager Sharp. You can read more about their award-winning campaigns with the Centers for Disease Control and the American Psychological Association here.