For many companies, partnering with a public relations agency is a natural step when their aim is to build or enhance their brand. Of course, how successfully these businesses tell positive stories about their brands partially depends on their partners. If you are currently in the process of finding and retaining a PR firm, chances are you have multiple pitches to evaluate. Here are four criteria to keep in mind as you weigh your options:

Timing.

Perhaps you have asked yourself, “Are we ready to work with a PR firm?” This is an excellent place to begin. Is your product or service fully vetted? Is your website optimized for sales, and does it contain the information that your leads will seek? Do you have a pipeline of PR-worthy content, as well as a team member who will oversee your relationship with the firm? Without these conditions in place, your public relations campaigns may not be effective. Remember that you need to have the budget to both employ the PR firm and to execute its plan.

Related: 5 Tips for Driving Valuable Customer Experiences through Company Culture

Agency type.

PR firms often focus on specific industries and/or specific areas of public relations. Some agencies specialize in community or media relations, while others work in areas like crisis communications. Firms may also specialize in B2B or B2C commerce. The type of agency you choose will depend on your business goals -- for example, building awareness for a new product vs. recovering from poor publicity. If your desired firm operates in a single industry, you may wish to ensure that it is not working with a competitor or a company that is likely to become a competitor before you commit.

Agency staffing.

Simply put, who will be working on your account? Many firms pair potential clients with a pitch team, but this is not the actual team that you will be working with on a day-to-day basis. If you are interested in an agency, ask to speak with the individuals who will service your account. You can also consider asking how the firm guarantees continuity for your business. If you are one of its smaller clients, you may find that your account is used to train inexperienced or new team members. This can lead to frequent staff turnover.

Related: 4 PR Strategies You Should Be Using Right Now

Agency size.

When it comes to agency size, there is no single recommendation that will suit all companies. Larger PR firms are typically more expensive, and you may not receive the level of attention that you desire. As previously mentioned, you may also serve as a training account for agency team members. Conversely, if a firm is too small, it may not provide all of the services -- or, again, the attention -- that you need. A small agency may also lack experience, and it may be unable to grow with your business.

Related: 3 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a PR Agency

Ultimately, the key to identifying the right PR firm lies in locating an agency that is affordable and free of conflicts of interest, with a knowledgeable staff that understands your industry, provides the appropriate level of attention, and can support you as you grow. With diligent research, this task can seem less like finding a needle in a haystack and more like a truly attainable business goal.