An occasional challenge we face is dealing with the trauma inflicted on prospective clients by other PR firms. Having been burned once, these skittish prospects are understandably reluctant to try it again – even though they realize that their company needs a well-orchestrated public relations effort.
“Oh, we tried that once,” they say. “We spent thousands of dollars and nothing happened. I’m not sure we want to do that again.”
After suggesting that they talk with a few of our clients to learn what a professional, reputable PR firm does, they are usually able to overcome their past injuries, and we move on to the next stage of the conversation about what we can specifically do for them.
Now, it is not every day that we hear complaints about other PR firms. In my experience, the vast majority of our competitors, both regionally and nationally, are upstanding citizens who do what they say they are going to do. However, there are obviously a few bad apples among American PR firms, because we do hear about them.
I’d like to get the bad apples out of our profession, but this will only happen when people stop hiring them, or at least fire them swiftly. This means that business owners must be able to recognize quickly when they’ve hired an underperforming PR firm, or, even better, be able to spot them before they are hired. Following is a checklist for doing so.
- Very little happens for the first few months of your engagement: Bad apples will tell you that PR takes time and not to expect results right away, which is correct, to a point. It does take time to put a new program into place – but it will never happen if there is little to no activity. If your goal is to generate publicity, and your new PR firm has not written at least a couple of press releases and sent out pitches to multiple outlets within the first two months of your engagement – fire them. If they’ve not met with you and laid out their publicity plan – fire them. If they have not generated a single news story and can’t tell you the reporters’ reasoning – fire them, because the chances are that they haven’t talked to any reporters. In short, if you get a lot of excuses and no results the first few months, they are either lazy or don’t know what they are doing, or both. Fire them.
- You are not kept informed about what they are doing: We prefer to meet face-to-face with our clients at least monthly, and we bring a report to these meetings that lists every thing we did last month and what we plan to do in the coming month. In between these meetings we are frequently on the phone and/or emailing with our clients – interviewing them for stories, discussing strategies, getting approval on copy and plans, etc. If communication with your PR firm consists primarily of them sending you a monthly invoice, the chances are that they have nothing to talk about. Fire them.
- You have to tell them what to do: Are you telling your PR firm what press releases to write, blogs to post, brochures to produce, social media posts to make? Do they simply react to what you ask for rather than bring ideas to you? If so, you’ve hired an expensive messenger service, not a PR firm. Fire them.
- They do not understand your industry: We tell our clients that we will never understand their industry as well as they do, but we will know more about it than anyone not in the industry – because we immerse ourselves in it, reading trade mags and blogs, visiting their competitors’ websites, questioning the journalists who cover the industry, following industry Twitter feeds and setting up alerts and other feeds to stay on top of developments. If you still have to explain the basics of your industry to your PR firm after working with them for a couple of months, fire them. If they haven’t made the effort to understand what you do, how are they going to convince your target markets to care?
- They do the same things they always do, regardless of your industry: Not all bad apples are indolent. Some are very busy, but busy about the wrong things. That’s because they have one prescription for everything. For example, does your new PR firm automatically say you need a Facebook page without first learning about your target customers and what will most benefit your company? (See “They do not understand your industry” above.) As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Fire them, before you get hammered.