Kate Finley

PR Problems: Is it Time to Fire Your Agency?

By: Kate Finley | August 21, 2013 | 

PR problemsBy Kate Finley

With great power, comes great responsibility. – Stan Lee

Sometimes I want to apologize on behalf of my profession.

The public relations field is having a few PR problems of its own these days. This is very unfortunate, because so many people rely on us – even to the point of their livelihood.

Sadly, the benchmark of public relations excellence is not always upheld or standardized.

Last week, I actually did apologize on behalf of my profession to one of my clients. Here’s the scenario.

$4000 a Month for … Nothing

I recently gained a major client that had previously been working with a couple of local agencies. They enjoyed different aspects of each agency but hadn’t really “clicked” with one in particular, so they retained my agency instead.

When I signed with this new client, they were still in contract with one of the other agencies for public relations support. Of course, I was thrilled to work with them, but I wondered what had gone wrong with the other agencies. Was my client actually the problem?

It only took a few days for the answer to become clear. My client was paying this agency thousands of dollars a month and getting nothing in return. I’m not exaggerating — they were getting nothing. In fact, when asking for feedback on a news release (which they wrote) the agency wouldn’t even edit it for them.

This is an extreme example of PR problems, and obviously completely unacceptable so today I want to talk about your rights when working with a PR agency, and what’s expected of you as a client.

If you’re an organization, it’s your right to make a change if you’re not seeing results. At the same time, it is also your responsibility to ensure you’re giving your PR agency the information they need to fulfill their promises.

If you’re a PR professional reading this, not to fear, we’ve got your back on this topic too! It’s important to know your rights.

Let’s explore some of them.

It’s OK to Ask Questions (and Get Answers)

Unless you are a PR professional, you are not expected to be an expert in the field of public relations. Your agency is there to answer your questions, and dig in to find the best solutions to your public relations needs. If you don’t understand the reasoning behind a certain effort or focus, just ask. We  enjoy discussing the strategy behind our tactics, and welcome the opportunity to share more value with you.

As a PR professional, I know it can start to feel like we’re “bugging” a client if we have to check back with them on a certain question or topic. To help with the information gathering process, you may want to discuss how your client prefers to communicate. For example, they may prefer a phone call to an email.

You Have the Right to Results

Return-on-investment and measuring results are buzzwords we’re hearing more and more often. That’s okay if those words are backed up by actual numbers – and not just a promise of numbers.

Don’t get me wrong, not everything in public relations is measurable in black-and-white terms. It is still a major driver of awareness, which when done correctly, can create a groundswell that isn’t always directly measurable.

What results can you expect? If you’re paying for media relations every month, you should expect to see results every month. You should see links to coverage, and updates on deliverables. Promises made in initial strategies should be upheld or revised as needed to better meet your organization’s needs.

But Wait … Is It You or Me?

As an organization working with a PR agency, there is one important caveat that will require some self-reflection: Have you given your agency the information and resources they need to achieve results? Have you made yourself available for questions and media interviews?

As PR professionals, we are experts in taking seemingly scarce resources and turning them into magical, brand-building opportunities. However, we still need some involvement from you to achieve the success you deserve. When it comes to feeling less than appreciated as an organization or as a PR agency, most often it’s a result from one of these scenarios:

The client perspective: I’m not sure what my PR agency is really doing for our organization. I rarely see an email from them or talk to them, and they aren’t delivering on the promises they made before we started their retainer. I feel like we’re just throwing money away.

The agency perspective: My clients never reply to my emails. It’s like pulling teeth! How am I supposed to get results if I don’t have information? Or if they do reply, it’s to say “no” to the targeted opportunity we secured for them (even though we explained how it would benefit their brand).

If you’re not providing your PR agency what they need to do their job, it’s not time to fire your agency. It’s time to engage them. Ask questions! If you think something doesn’t align with your goals let them know. If you’re not happy with the results tell them – give them an opportunity to exceed your expectations.

Don’t Settle

Yes, you have the right to move on to another agency. And no, it doesn’t matter how nice your PR rep is, or how many promises the agency made. If it’s not working, it’s not working, and it may be time to go elsewhere.

And, on the flip side, sometimes you have to fire a client. If you’re unable to fulfill your promises to them because they’re not meeting you half way, you may want to consider reworking your original commitment or moving on entirely.

Whether you’re reading this as an organization or a PR agency, be encouraged that with clear communication, it is possible to turn these relationships around, and work together successfully. And, if it’s not working, it’s your prerogative to move onto a better partnership.

Have you had trouble with your agency in the past or had a client who is unresponsive? How did you creatively handle it? Or, did you just cut ties? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

P.S. Don’t forget we have Jay Baer here on August 29 to discuss YOUTILITYRegister for free here.

About Kate Finley

Kate Finley is the CEO of Belle Communications, an integrated marketing firm based in Columbus, Ohio, where she helps CPG brands and startups with PR, social media, and content marketing. She is a media relations expert, leading teams in executing more than 1800 media opportunities for industry leading clients, with coverage in NBC News, TODAY, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, and other top media influencers. She’s a Paleo-eater, half-marathoner, and recently acquired a taste for CrossFit.

  • CommProSuzi

    Well done, Kate!!! You all have the ability to clearly describe what we’ve all been through.
    I’ve been on both sides of this equation, and in the middle as well. 
    As a Corporate Communications Pro, I’ve been presented with excellent opportunities that I’ve had to turn down because we couldn’t provide a spokesperson for one (pathetically selfish) reason or another. 
    As an Account Executive, I’ve had clients go silent expecting me to pull information and create content out of thin air. (Trust me, I bear no resemblance to Barbara Eden circa 1965 or any other year for that matter.; nor, despite how good I am, can I “blink” results into existence!) 
    As that Corporate Communications Pro with experience at a global agency, I’ve had to part ways with an agency that changed account teams so many times I spent a whole year relaying the basic information that was readily available in the press kit materials they created on our behalf to the Account Exec Du Jour.  Is it too much to expect clean handoffs? Additionally, they would always have reasons for why the items in the scope of work weren’t met, but offer some solution, that we’d approve, and still nothing would happen.  Further, they weren’t able to reach beyond their niche group of industry publications and put the company on the map with publications our audience was reading.  In some ways, the company had outgrown the agency. In other ways, the agency failed. 
    A scope of work document and benchmarks go a long way in preserving relationships. 
    Again, WELL DONE, KATE!

    • CommProSuzi Couldn’t agree with you more. As PR professionals and agencies, we have to find ways of not just ‘putting up a good front’ but instead constantly finding new and better ways to track results and exceed tactics. Recently, I’ve started using BaseCamp to help track proposed tactics within strategies. Whatever the medium or method, we have to find something that works and make it happen.

  • A couple of things struck me about this post: one is discussing with a client how they prefer to communicate. That’s a bigger piece than most people acknowledge…..in other words, “the communication of communications.” 
    I wonder if you could share some of the things you do and say at the beginning of a new client relationship? 
    The other is how important it is to set expectations. I’ve done a bunch of things in the last 5 years, incl. cust svc, project management/operations, and biz dev, and the overwhelming factor in a good relationship with a client or prospect is simply knowing where we both stand (and readjusting when it changes). 9 out of 10 times that keeps a relationship healthy (of course there’s always that one client or vendor you have to let go of b/c they are in crazyville).

    • JoeCardillo I couldn’t agree with you more. If as a client you’re not feeling you’re getting your money’s worth, then by all means you have every right to speak to your agency about how the activities can be reshaped to justify the retainer. As an agency, under servicing an account is fuel for replacement. If you’re not doing enough for your client, then do some research and brainstorming to figure out how you can help your client meet her objectives.

      • EdenSpodek JoeCardillo There is room for trial and error. We just need to have a ‘no tolerance’ policy for not trying.

        • KateFinley EdenSpodek JoeCardillo And to both of your points, how solid is that relationship, really, when both sides don’t know what they’re getting? Or aren’t willing to renegotiate the relationship?

    • JoeCardillo Thanks for the multiple post ideas in one comment 🙂 We didn’t pick an “easy” industry. PR done well will always seek to add value, be innovative and produce results that relate back to what clients need. 
      How do you set expectations with your clients?
      And yes, sometimes you run into a client or agency and realize they’re a couple fruit loops shy of bowl.

      • KateFinley JoeCardillo Happy to oblige =)

  • I have found great confusion about how to work with external PR resources. When people have a bit of experience they think PR can pick up the slack and, as you indicated, “make magic happen.” 
    I make magic happen all the time for clients with little to no input. I can do this, frustratingly, because my tenure in this profession is lengthy. 
    What I cannot do is create fodder all the time; eventually, I hit a wall and realize the relationship is merely one way — I’m begging for attention by the client and they’re expecting miracles. 
    When companies hire PR consultants of any size or shape, it’s critical that this discussion occur at the outset — PR is a two-way street. To get, you need to give.

    • Soulati | Hybrid PR Are you suggesting PR professionals and agencies communicate and *gasp* set expectations with their clients? Oh my.

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