I’ve sat in dozens of client meetings and have walked out thinking “How the hell did we get out of that unscathed?”
I’ve seen firsthand how clients buy into the waffle and hot air much to the relief of the PR guy who’s silently applauding himself at having spun himself (or herself) out of a tricky situation.
I’ve been there, in the thick of the situations that I’m going to talk about, so I’m not standing on a soap box and professing to have had an untarnished PR career! I’m also by no means dissing my profession and truly advocate the value and the power of PR (if done properly), but there are so many bad traits that give the good guys a bad name.
So here goes, the “fails” of the modern day PR practitioner. The ones that show that they are struggling with the client’s campaign:
1. They hype up the small insignificant things and make the less valuable outcomes, for example a snippet in the local rag, seem like the front page of the Sunday Times.
2. They present a “progress” report with 5 pages and 200 action items that are mostly “pending” yet there are maybe only 3 or 4 outcomes.
3. They promise this, that and the other – usually things totally non-PR related and out of their scope of work – in order to steer the client’s attention away from the fact that they’re not winning on the account. “Got to keep the client happy!!” they say.
4. The owner of the company rocks up at a meeting. I can tell you that the MD only comes to status meetings usually if he or she is nervous about the account and knows that the team has done very little. The reality is that the company owner usually isn’t hands on as he or she has to operate and grow the business and knows less about the account dynamics than you think. (Obviously where the MD is the company or the company is a small business and there is no or very few staff, then this is a different story!)
5. They come armed with a press coverage report and an overly inflated value of the press clippings. Who gives a toss? It’s quality rather than quantity. Yes, every bit counts, but the eye needs to be on the big prize or a focused article that will generate into a sales lead at very least. Also the value of a hugely positive article outweighs hundreds of articles that are in most instances a lazy journalist’s cut and paste job.
6. They come to meetings with a bag full of glossy magazines and tell the client what can be done instead of what has (or hasn’t) been done. There are desperate promises of double page spreads made in order to impress the client. Dig yourself a little deeper, why don’t you! Remember, under promise, over deliver!
7. They can do everything, I mean EVERYTHING. “Can you do international PR?”, “Of course we can.”; “Can you handle our social media?”, “Of course we can.” Great, now who at the agency can do these things? The poor junior member of staff sits in on the meeting thinking one word: “Bugger”!”
8. They shout out the latest marketing jargon but don’t really have a grip on it. They say things like “Let’s do a viral campaign.” We all know a viral social media campaign can’t just happen. It is largely due to luck.
9. They invite the client out to a team lunch or breakfast. Out of the 3 people from the agency at the restaurant, only one is actually implementing and doing the work. The other one is “directing” and the third is the MD whose involvement extends as far as paying the lunch tab and billing the client. “Overseeing things” as they commonly refer to their role as.
10. They name drop at any given opportunity. Big clients, well-known journalists and even achievements (often from longer than 5 years back.)
11. The meeting is focused only on what they’ve supposedly achieved instead of how the ongoing PR strategy is fitting in with the overall marketing and business strategies and how it is working overall. “We have to sell ourselves in to the client to show them our true value!” they say. The value lies in the results gained from the outcomes over a period of time.
12. Status meetings last longer than they should because of the drivel and irrelevant small talk about holidays, family, pets… Fake smiles, sucking up and bulls**t are an attempt of fleshing out the conversation and softening the blow around the minimal outcomes of the campaign.
This obviously doesn’t apply to all PR companies and practitioners. The good agencies and practitioners outweigh the bad by miles. But the reality is we have all winged it!
From an agency and PR practitioner’s side, we have an obligation to our clients and must strive for strategic outcomes. We also have an obligation to the PR industry as a whole and our quality of work needs to be exceptional at all times so that PR is seen as a valuable entity in the marketing mix and not a luxury or a waste of time, as it is often perceived to be.
To make sure your agency isn’t winging it, take note of the following:
- Work with people who get the job done with minimal chitchat.
- Insist on meeting the team. Build relationships with and maintain regular dialogue with all the members working on your account. If you are working with one of the bigger and established agencies, you are paying a premium to have a team of people working on your publicity, not for one.
- Both parties have to maintain an honest and open dialog and ensure that they understand your business goals and that they’re clear on your expectations and objectives. Sometimes things may be slow or challenging for the agency and frustrating for the client and if things aren’t working, identify the issue and adjust your tactic. Being open to changing the dynamic and the direction can only benefit in getting things right.
- From the outset, discourage the “them and us” perception, we’re all on the same side and need to be working towards the same set of goals. Work on making it work.
Public relations works and it works well when done properly!
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