Congratulations, you just hired a new public relations agency and you’re looking forward to moving ahead with a long-lasting and mutually productive relationship. If you’re not new to the PR agency alliance, then you’ve probably already suffered the slings and arrows of an agency fail. But if this is your first time at bat, well then I would like to prepare you for what may lie ahead.
In order to enable the most successful partnership there are some pitfalls to avoid.
Unclear goals. Hopefully you have provided clear goals to the PR agency prior to its researching and writing a proposal, and hopefully it has translated those goals into a clear concise strategy with appropriate tactics. After the hire, it’s important to review your goals with the agency so that appropriate tactics are set and implemented. There is no point to letting the horse leave the gate if the directions aren’t clear.
Unrealistic budget. The first question we ask a new client is, “Do you know what your budget is?” Usually that’s when we see the client’s eyes glaze over as they reply, “I have no idea! That’s what I thought you were here for.” Some experts recommend using a formula based on a percentage of gross revenue or projected revenue. For newer companies we might suggest 12 to 20 percent of gross or projected revenue for marketing, from which a portion would be allocated to public relations. For established companies that have been in business for more than five years, the allocation might be between 6 and 12 percent of revenue. However, sometimes the resultant budget is a combination of what the client can afford and what the agency believes it will need to execute attainable results. In this case, I advise the brands not to be penny wise and pound foolish.
Inability to predict trouble before it happens. Sometimes a good public relations agency has to function as a soothsayer, seeing into the future and anticipating small problems before they develop into big trouble. Start by looking for red flags like the client chronically being late in reviewing needed materials or an agency team member’s failure to report an early problem, and thereby nip it in the bud. Small failures like these, multiplied over time, can be a ticking time bomb.
Failure to properly staff. On the brand side it is imperative that there is one direct agency report rather than layers. This will cut down on delays and also help to create that vital agency/client smooth working relationship. On the agency side, we have to be able to evaluate the brand’s needs and staff accordingly. If the brand is social media intensive, we have to make sure that our staffing reflects this expertise. And if the brand is content driven, we must assure that staffers with writing skills are on the job.
No surprises. Years ago I won the Best Foods® brand after their current agency surprised them with a $35,000 charge to charter a private plane in order to get their spokesperson to his destination in a timely manner. The only problem with that was that the agency didn’t ask the client for approval ahead of time; they were immediately fired. Now mind you, that was a big whoops. But even small ones can lead to not only distrust, but to disaster.