3 Ways to Avoid a PR Agency Bait & Switch

By Scott Signore

We’re currently in the running for some dynamite new PR and social media business, and assembling our teams and preparing presentations. (By the way, that’s a rather significant process briefly summarized in one sentence!) The decision of who attends which meeting is primarily based on experience that is directly related to the proposed program. The depth of the team is often determined by program scope – at both the programmatic and budget level. Different than some of our competitors, here at Matter we bring to the meeting only those who will work on the business – we deliberately choose not to “bait-and-switch” team members – and we’ve always approached new business with this philosophy. That seems cliché, but that’s how we operate. And, we’ve found that it makes for a better agency/client relationship in the long run.

In the spirit of sharing information, here are three ways a company can avoid the bait-and-switch during agency search:

First, while a PR and social media team needs a leader, it typically doesn’t need a small army of leaders. (While there is some merit to leadership by committee, that’s not what I’m talking about here.) If you sit through an agency presentation and you get the feeling that the other side of the table has too many senior people, I strongly suggest waving the red flag. Even if intentions are sincerely positive, the model at most agencies won’t allow for the regular and consistent contributions of several senior staff on every account. If the pitch team appears top heavy, it likely is. A balanced team is one best positioned for communications success.

Second, if in the pitch meeting you ask the question “who’s my day-to-day contact” and the response is anything but clear and immediate, then it should be apparent that the assembled crowd isn’t sure how your business will be staffed. In fact, that’s a glaringly obvious sign that some of those at the table are temporary additions to the effort – hired guns, so to speak, that won’t be part of the account team long-term. That’s a bad sign. You want to make your agency decision based on who’s in the room at the time of the pitch, and who will be responsible for exactly which parts of your communications programs. Good agencies understand this, and put forth the people that will be doing the work.

Third, if the senior representatives from the pitch team deliver the bulk of content during the presentation, it’s obvious you have a problem. Here’s the scoop: the entire team should have a vested interest in the opportunity, and the agency should have the team dedicate time and energy toward the initiative. Contributions during the pitch should come from all of the assembled team, not just the senior crowd. Like mentioned in the last point, it should be clear who will handle each part of the program, and those people should talk to their assigned areas. Be certain that the proposed account team members provide credible content about what they know and how they will contribute, or you may have unfulfilled expectations following your decision-making process.

These three scenarios can help you determine if you’re going to be the victim of an agency “bait-and-switch.” Am I missing other signs?