Lies PR agencies tell

If you’re the client of a public relations agency and hear any of these phrases come out of someone’s mouth without the proof to back it up, there’s a good chance it’s a falsehood.

In a gem of a client-agency scene in a recent episode of “Mad Men” this season, Harry Crane is called into a meeting with a client to reassure them that Sterling Cooper & Partners’ media-buying technology is every bit as good as that of rival Grey, whose new computer has been written up in The New York Times.

Thinking on his feet, Harry dismisses the Grey story as “PR,” and explains that SCP uses an even more powerful computer.

While not technically lying (“I never said it was our computer”), Harry, like many agency folk, feels backed into a corner, and his first impulse is to smooth things over by misleading the client. It’s painful, but not uncommon.

The bonus here is a glimpse into the era when computers entered the ad buying world. Advertising Age had a great post about that. But I digress.

The lie Harry told probably wouldn’t hold up today (and later in the episode, we learn it may get him fired), but there are other fibs that agencies tell. I decided to poll colleagues at other agencies and came up with a modern-day list specifically for PR agencies.

“We love your product/app/service.” Within limits, this is harmless, and it may be true. But a complete absence of critical feedback is a red flag. A good PR professional should be able to see—and articulate—challenges to the client in a constructive way.

“This is a fantastic story and media will love it.” Enthusiasm is a great thing, but there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Call me superstitious, but claiming that anything a slam-dunk is tempting the publicity gods.

“Sure, we do social media/content marketing/video production/whatever you want.” This is common, needless to say, but more compelling information and proof points must follow.

“We’re fine working with other agencies.” This may be true on the surface, but it’s a rare case when competitive issues don’t arise among agencies. When you’re essentially vying for the same overall budget, rivalries do occur. Yet this one’s fairly harmless, because what it really means is: “We’ll do our damnedest to shelve infighting because if you don’t succeed, then none of us will either.”

“Of course we know all the reporters in your space.” This one’s problematic for two reasons. First, no agency is likely to know everyone, and the media landscape is always changing. But the bigger fib is the implication that simply knowing key journalists or bloggers will guarantee story placement. It won’t. It does offer access, which is very valuable, but this is another expectations-puffer that can easily burst.

“We’re putting the final touches on the proposal.” This can mean exactly that; but other times it translates to, “We’ve been super-busy and are now rushing to pull something together.” I can relate.

What other fibs do agencies commonly tell clients to win their business or soothe their nerves?

Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story originally appeared on her agency’s ImPRessions blog.

Topics: PR

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