“With great power, comes great responsibility.” – Stan Lee
Sometimes I want to apologize on behalf of my profession.
The public relations field has a few PR problems of its own these days. This is unfortunate because so many people rely on us, even to the point of their livelihoods.
Sadly, the benchmark of public relations excellence is not always upheld or standardized.
Recently, I actually apologized to one of my clients. Here’s the scenario.
$4000 a month … for nothing
I recently gained a major client that previously worked with a couple of local agencies. The client enjoyed different aspects of each agency, but hadn’t clicked with one in particular.
When I signed with this new client, it was still in contract with one of the other agencies. I was thrilled to work with the client, but wondered what went wrong with the other agencies. Was my client actually the problem?
It only took a few days for the answer to become clear. My client was paying this agency thousands of dollars a month and getting nothing in return. I’m not exaggerating—it was getting nothing.
In fact, when the client asked for feedback on a news release it wrote, the agency wouldn’t even edit it.
This is an extreme example, and obviously completely unacceptable. That’s why I want to talk about your rights when working with a PR agency, and what the agency expects of you as a client.
If you’re an organization, you have the right to make a change if you don’t see results. At the same time, it is also your responsibility to ensure you give your PR agency the information it needs to fulfill its promises.
If you’re a PR professional, don’t worry. I’ve got your back on this topic. It’s important to know your rights.
Let’s explore some of them.
It’s OK to ask questions (and get answers)
Unless you are a PR professional, no one expects you to be a public relations expert. Your agency is there to answer your questions and find the best solutions to your public relations needs. If you don’t understand the reasoning behind a certain effort or focus, just ask. We enjoy discussing the strategy behind our tactics, and welcome the opportunity to share more value with you.
As a PR professional, it can feel like you’re bugging a client if you have to check back with them on a certain question or topic. To help with the information-gathering process, you may want to discuss how your client prefers to communicate. For example, they may prefer phone calls to email.
You have a right to results
“Return on investment” and “measuring results” are buzzwords we’re hearing more and more. That’s OK as long as actual numbers back up those words—not just a promise of numbers.
Don’t get me wrong: You can’t measure everything in black-and-white terms. PR is still a major awareness driver, which, when done correctly, can create a groundswell that isn’t always directly measurable.
What results can you expect?
If you pay for media relations every month, you should expect to see results every month. You should see links to coverage and updates on deliverables. The agency should uphold promises it made in initial strategies, and revise as needed to better meet your needs.
But wait … is it you or me?
As an organization working with a PR agency, there is one important caveat that requires some self-reflection: Have you given your agency the information and resources it needs to achieve results? Have you made yourself available for questions and media interviews?
As PR professionals, we are experts in taking seemingly scarce resources and turning them into magical, brand-building opportunities. However, we still need some involvement from you to achieve the success you deserve. When an organization or PR agency feels less than appreciated, most often it’s a result of one of these scenarios:
The client perspective: I’m not sure what the PR agency is really doing for my organization. I rarely see an email from them or talk to them, and they aren’t delivering on the promises they made before we started their retainer. I feel like we’re throwing money away.
The agency perspective: My clients never reply to my emails. It’s like pulling teeth! How am I supposed to get results if I don’t have information? If they do reply, it’s to say no to the targeted opportunity we secured for them, even though we explained how it would benefit their brand.
If you don’t provide your PR agency with what it needs to do the job, it’s not time to fire your agency; it’s time to engage. Ask questions. If you think something doesn’t align with your goals, say so. If you’re not happy with the results, say so. Give the agency an opportunity to exceed your expectations.
Yes, you have the right to move on to another agency. And no, it doesn’t matter how nice your PR rep is, or how many promises the agency made. If it’s not working, it’s not working.
On the flip side, sometimes you have to fire a client. If you’re unable to fulfill your promises because the client won’t meet you half way, you may want to rework your original commitment or move on entirely.
Whether you’re an organization or PR agency, be encouraged that with clear communication, it is possible to turn these relationships around and work together successfully. If it’s not working, it’s your prerogative to move onto a better partnership.
Have you had trouble with your agency in the past, or had a client who was unresponsive? How did you handle it?
Kate Finley works with Arment Dietrich on media and blogger relations. She also is the CEO of Belle Communications. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.