Kate Finley

PR Problems: Is it Time to Fire Your Agency?

By: Kate Finley | August 21, 2013 | 
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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.

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