How Many PR Agency Reviews Do You Need?

By Scott Signore

Often PR firms get a bad rap, and sometimes it’s deservedly so. If your agency sits on its heels and waits for you to “provide some news,” the result is predictably underwhelming.

Why? Because that’s not a partnership, but rather a client-vendor relationship. The vendor expects the client to produce something of news value, and if the client fails to deliver the goods, the PR program withers on the vine. Eventually, the client’s frustration manifests itself into yet another agency search.

I’ve encountered a number of marketing leaders over the years who cycle through PR firms the way you and I get oil changes. But at some point you have to ask yourself an uncomfortable question – “is every firm I work with a lemon, or is it possible something’s broken on my end?”

The answer is that both elements may be in play, because the selection process isn’t being handled properly by either party.

A PR agency that stands the test of time has to establish credibility and respect at the bargaining table. Just as the CMO or VP of Marketing lays out his/her needs from an agency, so too should the firm clearly articulate what is needed from the client in order to be successful.

Now, at this point you might think that means the client must constantly provide something newsworthy to the firm, but that’s not at all what I’m getting at. What I mean is, the firm needs to ensure that the company is willing to view it as a partner, which entails being receptive and responsive to creative thinking. Most good firms bring enterprising ideas to the table, and companies that trust in the firms’ experience and abilities capitalize on these “manufactured” opportunities by supporting them internally and, in some cases, financially.

Companies accustomed to playing it safe are generally looking for a firm to maintain a brand versus building a better one. Saying “we’ve never done it that way before” to a PR firm is a surefire way inhibit the team and kill creativity. Without a steady diet of creativity, guess what’s left to work with?

Announcements. Product launches. Acquisitions. Standard PR 101 fare.

Solid client-partner relationships are forged by mutual respect, and by a willingness to try new things – even if it feels slightly uncomfortable to do so. Sometimes the result will be a lot of singles and doubles. And sometimes – when a PR firm gets a bright idea that you support – you’ll hit a home run.

My advice to marketing executives interviewing PR firms is to ask one key question: “What do you need from my team to be successful?” And to PR agencies pitching new business, it’s critical to make clear that “having news” isn’t the only way to build brand awareness and attract customers.

True partners find ways to succeed together.