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Mark Johnson is a senior program manager at Powerset / Microsoft Bing. This post originally appeared on his blog, Deliberate Ambiguity, and is re-posted below with his permission.

Zusatz: In Julie’s blog post, Relationship Reality: Stop Asking who I Know at USA Today, she reminds companies on the hunt for a PR firm that press relationships are table stakes: any good PR person has them. More important to getting great press is hiring a savvy, aggressive, and committed communications team.

If not relationships, then what questions should you ask? I’ve proposed five questions below that will help you to dive deeper into a firm’s capabilities.

1. “What did you think of [major competitor X]‘s launch?” – First, this question checks to see if the PR firm has done their homework. They should know about your major competitors and their communications strategies. Second, this question gives you insight into how the PR firm uses competitive knowledge to influence its campaigns.

2. “How would you determine if our launch/product launch was successful?” – a good way to figure out how the firm thinks about both qualitative and quantitative metrics.

3. “What’s an example of a client who asked you to do something that you thought was incorrect and how did you steer them in a better direction?” – use this question to determine the level of honest you’ll get from your firm. You want a firm that’s going to stop your cockamamie ideas and try to transform them into something workable.

4. “What are the biggest challenges we’ll face in our PR campaign?” – bad PR people tend to put a positive spin on absolutely everything; a good PR firm will be a trusted adviser and be honest with both your opportunities and the problems you face.

5. “What excites you about doing PR for my company?” – probably the single most important question you can ask. If your potential PR team doesn’t have a solid answer for this question, don’t hire them.

These are really just some examples of how to get into the head of your potential PR team and figure out if they’ve got the talent, the smarts, and the dedication to be your partner in marketing.

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