An answer to LinkedIn thread and its criticisms of PR agencies

PR agencies sometimes don’t deliver – that is not big news, is it?

There are professionals and organisations that do not measure up in all sectors, perhaps over-selling to ensure the contract is theirs and then disappointing then when tested.

There are real issues concerning the reputation of PR agencies and when I saw this thread on LinkedIn I felt I had to answer.

Here are three comments I think show real misunderstanding – such views need to be challenged.

“The average agency client relationship lasts just 18 months because 99% of agency pitches are dishonest….sounds like PR firms need a lesson in PR!”

Kathy Towner, owner Win Communications

Well if I am honest that means statistically every other PR agency in Manchester and the North West is not – that doesn’t seem quite right.

But let me argue the real point and not the vitriolic bit, which might come from a bad experience and requires a venting of anger.

“Client relationships last 18 months.”

I am not sure where this is sourced and whether it is correct but let’s say it is.

Client relationships can end because a client suffers from a critical cash flow because of tax issues, loss of one of their key clients or the economic conditions.

Client relationships can also end because of the following reasons (I have listed 10 possibles):

  • New marketing director wants his or her own agency brought in.
  • The client feels a new agency will be extra keen, this is a perception that does not always ring true.
  • The PR resource is brought in-house.
  • Some clients only want a project with specified aims and time period.
  • Sometimes after a couple of years the original aims of the client have been achieved or the account has been exhausted; some clients have a restricted range of subjects and news.
  • The client is very busy and feels they do not need a PR agency anymore.
  • The client has become very busy and does not have the time to devote to handling the agency and so has decided to put things on hold
  • The client has grown or has changed and believes a new agency with specific experience or skills is needed.
  • The client has unrealistic expectations and are disappointed when they are not filled.
  • The agency has had enough of the lack of co-operation of the client; sometimes clients might not pay on time or at all.  (I worked for an agency where the client refused to pay and said the work was all done for free to curry favour despite contracts and e-mail clearly stating the work had been commissioned.  Apparently they had done this to a number of suppliers).

I have one client that I have worked with for two years and they put things on hold  in April for reasons that were no-one’s fault.  I met them today and they want me to take up the communication reigns again; I am starting work with them tomorrow.

“I’ve always found retainers to be self defeating in that they repeatedly prompt the same question: “what am I getting for this?” My response always has been to offer retainer, hourly rate and “per project” arrangements and let clients decide which they prefer.”

Bill Brody Professor Emeritus at the University of Memphis

Retainers make sense for an agency and client:

  • Retainers allow an agency to invest time in researching opportunities.  It allows an agency to act on an opportunity; if you had to wait for an affirmative every time something came up it would be an impractical relationship.
  • Retainers enable agencies to plan financially – retainers enable clients to plan financially.
  • Retainers give agencies a robust model to work around.
  • Retainers show the agency that the clients are committed to the relationship – this is reciprocated by any agency worth hiring.

If you want to offer a range of arrangements then do so.  But if you try and bend to all demands and requirements it is going to be more complicated than it need to be.

“We had two disappointing experiences with PR firms. How can you justify the expense of hours worked if at the end of it you can’t correlate any tangible improvement in business, customers, profits, image, or anything?”

Todd Lempicke

It is not always easy to measure PR.  I tell that to all prospects.  I try to give a realistic opinion about possible results and let clients make a call based on sensible estimations.

  • Clients – Let me say that some clients do not ask where new business has come from, so how can you measure it?  What if a client’s website loses a prospect or the way they are handled on the phone? mmmmmmm
  • Profits – Doesn’t this mainly depend on variables that aren’t anything to do with PR such as costs of suppliers, wages, the economy, competition etc?
  • Image – not easy to measure.
  • Anything – PR works on many levels and it has a positive affect on many elements of a company.  If you agency does not deliver at all, either you have a really awful agency and you really need to be more careful in your hiring process or perhaps handle your agency better.

I was speaking to a client I worked for for over two years and whose contract finished in the summer.  He told me last Friday that his agency had got many inquiries, as much as a quarter, from a source he wasn’t sure of.  He supposed, as all his inquiries came from referrals, that this must be PR.  As his agency was small then, he told me PR was an important ingredient in its growth.  But there was no system in place to measure the effect.

I don’t mean this to be a them against us piece: it is not.  All I am saying is that it can be more complicated that is stated by the above statements.

When PR agencies peform and work well with clients the results can make companies.