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How to Hire a Financial Services PR Agency – A Guide For Fund Administrators

five people sitting in a waiting room waiting to pitch their PR services to financial services clients
Above: Pitching is part of agency life and the hiring process. But as a buyer of financial public relations services, how do you get to that point and where do you go from there?

You’re a marketing, PR or head of business professional in a fund administration firm. Senior leaders have bought into your idea that a PR agency – or a new one – can make a difference to your firm. Congratulations! So how do you go about hiring one? 

Having worked in both agencies and in-house and been both a provider and buyer of public relations and marketing services, I understand many of the pitfalls – and how to avoid them. 

In my view, a PR agency should feel like a natural extension of your team, working closely with you to achieve your goals, to protect and enhance your firm’s brand presence in the market.  

With this in mind, I always split the process into three different parts: Groundwork, Pitches and Proposals, and finally PR Firm Selection. 


Define Your Objectives: Clearly articulate what you want to achieve with a PR agency. This can be three bullet points and uncomplicated, but do be specific and attach it to a business need. For example, raising brand awareness in a particular jurisdiction, attracting institutional or retail investors or some kind of issues management. The more specific the better and something that the whole business can recognise that once achieved, is a barometer of success. 

A real-life example I have is when I was in-house at a large (and at the time, not very well known) US pensions consulting firm and looking to hire a PR agency. The firm had been unable to shake off the notion that they were a hedge fund. This wasn’t only a case of mistaken identity, it could have become an extremely reputationally damaging notion – that a supposedly independent consultant advising clients on which hedge funds to select in their portfolios, in fact ran a hedge fund themselves (another firm written about in the New York Times, and another in Reuters, for actually having secret internal hedge funds, shows the damage this could have caused).  

Thankfully, my firm really wasn’t running a secret hedge fund, but in my list of three objectives for my PR agency hire, one was “UK and European journalists stop calling us a hedge fund”. The other two were “frequently spotlighting senior business leaders” and “media training including broadcast”. 

What does success look like to you? Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) - And Make Them Contractual: Once you have your objectives, you need some way to measure the path from where you are now, to success. At Material Impact, KPIs are contractual – we consider our clients’ reputation serious business and no place is more fitting for their reputational targets than a legally binding document to ensure those objectives and KPIs are not laying forgotten in a draw, somewhere down the line. Typical KPIs I encourage clients to set – and set myself when I was in house – were set per month and looked something like this (where # is the number of monthly targets): 

  • # of ghost-written thought leadership articles. 

  • # of media engagements (whether phone call, in person chat or email Q&A). 

  • # of blog posts. 

  • # of social media posts. 

  • Define Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 media outlets.  

These are all SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound), but emphasis on the "achievable.” A PR firm can’t (or, really shouldn’t) guarantee coverage because they don’t have direct editorial control of where clients want to appear - so it’s not really achievable and they shouldn’t make that promise. However, they should be able to guarantee with certainty that they will write a particular number of articles for you, or have enough conversations with journalists about your firm that they can reliably set up a pre-determined number of engagements with your spokespeople. 

There will of course be a direct link to these targets and the fee a firm should expect to pay. The higher the targets, the higher the fee, but a good firm will work with you to set KPIs in the context of your needs and budget. 

The final bullet point – defining media outlets in Tier 1 through 3 should also be a collaborative effort. It’s also different for each firm, no one paper or magazine is a silver bullet for everyone in the world (though the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal come pretty close).  

Benchmark Where You Are Today: You have your objectives and your KPIs. Are you part of the way to achieving them already or are you at square one? Benchmarking is a good way to see what you’ve already achieved and set the challenge for your agency to surpass. It may look something like this: 

  • # of media citations already achieved per year, split into Tier 1 – 3 media outlets. 

  • Key titles the firms has existing relationships with. 

  • Etc. 

In the case of the real-world example I gave earlier, changing perception of a firm from a hedge fund to a consultant, I gave a rough percentage of how bad the problem was – how many journalists I had met who expected us to be a hedge fund. It was a high number. 

Research Potential Agencies and Evaluate Their Expertise: As a fund administrator, you’ll want an agency whose staff has worked with and marketed to asset managers. They’ll need a deep understanding of the niche, the audience and what media they read and what they’re likely to read from you. Then there’s the jurisdictional experience quality. Do they understand the regulatory environment in both your home and target jurisdictions?  

Having worked with a fund administrator before is a great trait as well, you’ll want to know the individuals selling the firm to the press know a Manco from their elbow, and the concept of owning a fund structure but not the asset shouldn’t phase them.  

As an agency who works exclusively with fund administrators, asset managers and the industry membership organisations they join, we believe we have an excellent start point to help firms grow their reputation, brand value and leads. 

The final tip here – I checked out the client base of the firms in questions and held phone calls with current and past clients, many of whom were industry friends. It’s a small world and everyone I contacted was happy to let me know what they thought of the work these agencies had conducted. 


Request & Evaluate Proposals: Ask the shortlisted agencies to submit proposals that detail their strategies, services offered, and how they align with your goals. Assess each proposal against your objectives and KPIs. Look for creativity, strategy alignment, and how well they understand your business.  

It’s also a great time to assess chemistry: keep in mind everyone is being very careful, and everything is (mostly) rehearsed, but watching your potential hires perform a pitch is valuable intel. It clues you in as to who they are, how they carry themselves and whether you want them talking to you, your team, your internal clients and the press on your behalf, on any frequent basis. 

Finally, aside from getting a sense of their team and an opportunity to ask questions, pitches and proposals is a great way to gauge an agency’s enthusiasm for and commitment to your firm and the work they’ll be doing for you. 

Check for Service Versatility: Ensure the agency can offer a comprehensive range of services such as media relations, digital marketing, content creation and crisis management. You don’t want to blow the PR budget on a firm and then be told that crisis comms isn’t in their service offering, for example.  

Discuss Budgets and Costs: Having honest, open discussions about your budget is best. I did this and some firms decided the budget wasn’t enough for them and they didn’t have to waste their time – or mine and my internal clients’ - on a proposal or pitch when I knew that hiring them wasn’t something that could be considered from a budgetary perspective. Other firms decided the budget was a great starting point and they were confident they could impress and grow their fees with us over time, and for others still the original budget was enough for a long-term relationship.  

Aside from having open discussions about budget expectations, do get a clear understanding of the agency’s fee structure – what's included? What isn’t? What rate do they charge for extra work? Do they overservice by a percentage of hours and if so how much? At Material Impact, we allow clients a buffer of around 20% of the monthly retainer hours for surprises and before anything else is charged, we speak to the client about priorities. Generally, clients want a firm who won’t down tools in the middle of a campaign. 


Based on the preceding steps, you should have a good idea of who your new, long-term partner is going to be. If you’re still unsure at this point, consider starting with a trial project or a short-term project contract to assess the agency's work before committing to a long-term agreement.  

Sometimes the choice is hard – it can be a really close call and PR people can be very friendly and even more convincing. Personally, I wouldn’t make a choice on chemistry alone (though it’s tempting) but on who I believe will give me the best possible results, work best with internal clients - as well as chemistry.  

A few other tips from this point on: 

Negotiate Terms: Once you've selected an agency and you’re happy with terms, ensure that the contract includes scope of work, any confidentiality agreements and of course the SMART objectives and KPIs from the first steps in this process. 

Onboarding: Work closely with the agency during the onboarding process to ensure they have all the necessary information and resources to represent your brand effectively. Are you based abroad? Go and meet your new agency in person, or invite them to you. There is value in treating your new agency as a new hire and training them as you would another member of your team. What topics are red and green lines in press interviews, what’s the process for speaking to senior spokespeople and so forth. 

I'll leave you with this. The right PR agency is a partner who acts as an extension of your team, offering proactive, responsive, and effective solutions tailored to your firm's specific needs.


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