As part of your public affairs programme, you may decide to engage a specialist public affairs agency. These can be very useful, but also expensive.
You should bear in mind that agencies’ reputations are based on the people working in them, and personnel change frequently. Do not just rely on a large brand name – make sure the people you see initially are the people you want to actually work on your account. Check out their track record and always ask for references.
You must be clear about what you want them to do, and by when. Remember that agencies cannot guarantee you access to, or influence over, policymakers, whatever they may say. They can advise you on how best to present your case and how to target key audiences.
Make sure you are very clear on what you are paying for. Most agencies work on a retainer basis for weekly, monthly or annual contracts. Make sure you know exactly what is included in this and what you might be expected to pay on top.
Beware of buying services you do not actually need. Many agencies make a high mark-up on repackaging information – such as biographies, ministerial changes and notices of parliamentary business – which is now freely available on the internet. A competent researcher in your team can access this information at a fraction of the cost.