The best client-agency relationships are based on mutual respect and no small measure of honesty. It’s a good sign if that candor is in evidence before the contract is signed.
Last August, Lucy Siegel, CEO of Bridge Global Strategies, wrote an insightful post, "6 Things many PR firms won't tell you
." Her post contains some excellent red flags to look for when considering a PR firm or consultant, including my personal favorite: PR people who fail to clue in clients with absurdly high expectations until after they’ve signed on.
But, as they say in the infomercial, there’s more! With a nod to Lucy, I’d like to share a longer list of those tricky matters that probably won’t be volunteered by the PR team, to the detriment of the relationship.
You’ll be passed on to junior staffers
Sad to say, because I’m convinced it’s a tactic among a minority of firms, but the old “pitch and switch” isn’t dead yet. Some firms are so layered that they can only make a profit by pushing the work down to the most junior level.
You’ll do well to get a commitment that the pitch team actually is the account team.
Their most relevant experience left six months ago
It’s customary for a firm to show case histories of relevant work, but you should make sure the most pertinent knowledge actually resides among those on the account team, not in another office or with the guy who left in February.
Your strategy’s not workable
An important part of expectations management is agreeing on how you’ll reach your goals. A smart PR pro should point out flaws or limitations in a communications strategy just as easily as they praise the opportunity. Better yet, they should be the ones to develop the strategy.
They’re too big (or small) for your budget
Size does matter. There are no hard-and-fast rules about this, but it’s fair to ask about average fee billings and where your program might fit into the mix.
Another way to get at the same issue is to ask how many clients an average staffer actively represents. Then do your own math.
Their social media “expert” is a newbie
Talking the talk is great, but with soaring demand for social media experience, I’ve met those who have the title but haven’t ever actually run a social or digital campaign. Make sure there’s real experience behind the witty tweets.
Publicity results can take six months or more
The actual generation of publicity can vary with the client and the program, but keep in mind that no one can promise quick results. The same goes for exactly where and how your story appears.
As a former client said to her boss when he asked for a “D1” (front of section) story in a certain newspaper, there’s one way to accomplish that. It’s called advertising.
PR rarely drives sales
Another tricky aspect of a client-agency relationship is return-on-investment. PR most often supports brand building over time. Even a heavy product publicity outreach is unlikely to be a magic bullet, and it can never replace a full-on marketing campaign.
Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story first appeared on the MENG Blend blog.