A Manifesto for PR Agencies

By Matter

 I believe any PR agency in 2013 that is not obsessed with the inherent value of Search Engine Optimization should immediately sell to a conglomerate for pennies on the dollar or declare bankruptcy to protect what assets remain. You’re over.

 I believe that PR agencies who don’t understand how to actually engage with “influencers” ought to acknowledge this distressing fact candidly when pitching prospects, rather than raise false expectations and invariably besmirch the industry by clumsily spamming anyone with a high Klout score. You know what gives PR people a bad name? Bull-shitters like you.

 I believe that PR agencies who don’t have their own creative resources in-house will give up huge dollars to help outside vendors who don’t care to understand the client narrative. PR firms who pretend they “do all of that video and stuff” will not only lose money, but clients, and further besmirch an industry still trying to tamp down discussions about “bait and switch.”

I believe PR firms who practice Bait and Switch – that is, trotting out principals and veeps for the big pitch, and then staffing the account with account coordinators and interns – should be publicly exposed and ridiculed by their upstanding peers. When we’re talking about monthly retainers from $10K to $50K per month, clients damn well better be getting senior counsel. If you’re a PR agency that relies entirely – not occasionally, not sometimes, but ENTIRELY – on junior staff, you’re a pox on the industry. Do the right thing and close your shop, since you obviously have zero business savvy.

 I believe that PR agencies which bill on a Time and Materials model are perhaps too business-savvy, since they sap a client of resources by performing “make work” and then cajole them into throwing more cash on the table for services they should reasonably expect as part of the initial agreement. I don’t begrudge anyone for making money. But I’m opposed to rigging a system that rewards PR people for draining budgets and essentially handcuffing a client until more green hits the table.

I believe the three most important words a PR person can utter to a client are “I respectfully disagree” – not for the sake of being disagreeable, but rather as a barometer of trust. If a client puts forth a hair-brained idea, any credible PR pro should be empowered by his agency to have the moxie to say: “I respectfully disagree,” and then offer up a different solution based on years of in-the-trenches expertise.  Good ideas will win the day. Bad ideas, given a chance, destroy everything.

 I believe that a mountain of “hits” or “clips” or “impressions” amassed by a PR firm on behalf of a client are utterly worthless unless they drive revenue, increase brand awareness and help to create a halo effect for the client. They’re nice and important metrics, but I’ve never – not once – heard about a deal closing based on the number of click-throughs an article got or the “Share of Voice” in a particular piece. What do the client’s analytics say? Where is the traffic coming from, and from which source are the most deals coming from? If a PR agency isn’t asking these questions, they’re asking for it.

 I believe the PR industry is wasting its time trying to come up with “standardized measurement” or “universal metrics” upon with PR firms should be judged. That’s utter hogwash. I believe those who perpetuate this foolhardy exercise are simply looking for cover, to be “doing what everyone else is doing” as to dismiss concerns that they don’t know what metrics to capture. It’s pack mentality, and it’s wrong-headed. Explain to me how a Cloud Storage company and a Burger King and a digital photography client should be measuring the same outcomes. Please.

 I believe, because it’s essential to believe it, that a PR firm’s greatest assets are its people – not its clients. Clients will stay on board if an agency’s people consistently perform over the long-term. I believe a firm that puts its clients ahead of its people will quickly, and irreparably, find itself with fewer of both.

That’s what I believe. What do you believe?