Transform Your PR Agency with These 10 RulesIt’s no big surprise that the PR industry has changed significantly in the past decade.

Today, we’re charged with far more than ever before—and lots of professionals are left doggie paddling in a sea of rough expectations.

(Wow, that was a really bad analogy. I’ve been around Laura Petrolino too long.)

While there is a lot of confusion about where things “belong,” now is the time to take control and ask for forgiveness instead of permission.

This means you may see an opportunity to add content development or a day-in-the-life-type video series, but they don’t “belong” to your role or scope of work.

How do you handle it?

Do you ask for permission and wait to see who grasps your idea and takes credit? Or do you implement it, have success—and then ask for forgiveness if you stepped into someone else’s role?

(I think you know where I tend to land.)

This is a question I get a lot: “I love the PESO Model, but I can’t my boss/client/team to agree to let me do the work.”

Why is that? Does it belong to the ad agency? The digital marketing firm? Or is it because the organization is stuck in the Dark Ages?

Often, it’s simply because no one owns it, but we don’t have the time or resources or budget to suggest we own it.

But flipping that on its end is the type of thinking you need to have to transform your PR agency during  a pandemic—and beyond.

Transform Your PR Agency with These 10 Rules

There are three things that have happened in the last decade to require this:

  1. Change velocity. You know, this whole technology thing. It’s sort of put the PR industry on its head. And it’s changing more quickly than ever. Now is the time for you to take heed.
  2. Selective consumption. While inbound marketing isn’t new, it’s become increasingly more popular as it’s effectiveness begins to shine. What is your PR agency doing about implementing it for real business results?
  3. Success factors. While some organizations are happy to keep the status quo, the most successful ones know exactly what types of activities create the most success. Be part of bringing that type of success to your clients…and measure your results.

In other words, you really have no choice but to change, evolve, and adapt.

Here are the 10 rules you will have to adapt as you begin to build and grow your modern PR agency.

Eliminate Billable Hours

It’s been a decade since I blogged about PR firms needing to be rid of the billable hour structure.

It’s archaic and it doesn’t get the best results.

To boot, do you think if you have a ridiculously creative idea in a 30 minute brainstorm, that you should be paid only for those 30 minutes of “work”?

Or should you be paid for the idea that goes on to make your clients hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars?

A couple of years ago, I read an article about Ellen Pompeo and how she’s slowing inching her way toward being the highest paid actress on TV. From the article:

Pompeo’s new pact will have her earning more than $20 million a year — $575,000 per episode, along with a seven-figure signing bonus and two full backend equity points on the series, estimated to bring in another $6 million to $7 million.

She also will get a producing fee plus backend on this spring’s Grey’s spinoff as well as put pilot commitments and office space for her Calamity Jane production company on Disney’s Burbank lot. Already, she has a legal drama in contention at ABC, and she recently sold an anthology drama to Amazon, which will focus each season on a different American fashion designer’s rise to prominence.

Notice how she’s getting paid for more than doing her per episode work?

How can you transform your PR agency by getting paid for your brain—and your expertise—and not for the time you spend?

Transform Into a Hybrid

Becoming a technology firm doesn’t mean you have to do software or build apps or know how to develop.

It means you’re immersed in technology and know how it’s affecting your business and your client’s businesses.

When you combine that with communications, you suddenly become more trusted than the PR agency that simply writes and places news releases.

You are a firm that is a trusted partner that the client cannot live without.

Think Talent and Team

In the modern PR agency ecosystem, the one thing that can’t be replicated by your competition is the talent you have on your team.

Structure the business to hire the best and retain them.

It’s impossible to sustain a profitable business if your talent leaves every two years (as they do in many PR firms).

Invest in them. Mentor them. Grow them.

Build a Scalable Infrastructure

Just 10 years ago, you had to have office space and a server and everyone had to come to work and put their butts in seats.

No more…and it’s glorious!

Today you just need a laptop, an internet connection, and the cloud.

All of this costs maybe $2,500 per person per year (even less if you have BYOD).

This is scalable because the cost is so low and you have immediate access to everything you need, from wherever you are.

We’ve been forced into this lifestyle because of the pandemic, but this kind of work may extend beyond shelter in place rules.

Devise an Inbound Marketing Game Plan

An inbound marketing plan for a PR agency?

Are you insane?


The only real way you’re going to grow your PR agency is to treat yourself as a client.

You have to do your own marketing, your own PR, and your own advertising.

If you don’t, you’ll always rely on word-of-mouth…which is great when referrals are heavy. And terrible when they’re not.

Maintain control of your own new business development through inbound marketing.

(Read The Conversion Code to help you think through this, if you’ve not yet read it.)

Control the Sales Funnel

When I worked at Fleishman-Hillard, once a year they’d bring in some sales guru to talk to us about how to drive new business.

It never worked because we:

  1. Were too young to have any connections that could make purchase decisions;
  2. Still had to bill a minimum of 40 hours a week to client work; and
  3. Had to work on new business proposals 20 hours a week.

There is a better process for formalizing your new business, but in a way that involves everyone where they’re strong.

Commit to Clients

This is kind of a no brainer, but you have to accept the fact that not all clients are created equal.

You have some who mean more to your PR agency than others.

This is the hardest thing you’ll have to do, but once a year, look at the bottom 10 percent of your clients and “fire” them.

I know it’s hard to give up revenue.

But you’ll just have to trust me when I say it’ll be the best decision you’ll make.

Free up your time to work on the clients you enjoy, doing the work that makes you feel good, and earning the kinds of money you deserve.

Deliver Results

Most PR agencies fall short here for two reasons:

  1. The industry standard for results is still media impressions and advertising equivalencies (total BS); and
  2. “I went into PR because I hate math.”

Yeah…that’s not going to cut it.

With all of the data you now have at your fingertips, you’d better quickly learn how to measure results.

Embrace Failure

This is the willingness to take chances.

A lot of agencies know the model is broken, but most don’t know how to fix what’s wrong.

Are you willing to take some risk and be OK if you fail?

This may mean you fail with your own business or with a certain tactic or campaign for a client.

Get comfortable with failure. It’s the only way you’ll learn, evolve, and grow.

Pursue Purpose

This is what I call the vision.

Entrepreneurs are rarely satisfied with making money.

If that were the case, I would have stopped a loooooooong time ago.

But there is a bigger purpose that drives my passion and gets me out of bed every morning.

What is it for you?

How Will You Transform Your PR Agency?

The Agency Management Institute is hosting a virtual summit next week to help you think through some of these things—and more.

Billed as “Kick COVID to the Curb“, you’ll learn how to propel your agency to greater profits and stability, pandemic or not.

That’s one way to think about how to transform your agency. So is adding new revenue streams, having a proactive new business process, not being afraid of failure, and everything else listed above.

How will you approach the last half of the year?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich