MP&F’s Top 25 PR Questions

November 19, 2012

McNeely Pigott & Fox is celebrating 25 years in business during 2012, and one of the ways we’re celebrating is by answering the 25 questions we are most often asked about our business.

Question 15: What are some of the common mistakes people make when they hire a PR firm?

By David Fox

David Fox

One of the best questions we get asked is: “What are some of the common mistakes people make when they hire a PR firm?” When you get that question, you know there’s an understanding that “mistakes” can happen on both sides of the relationship. So here are a few pitfalls to avoid:

Mistake #1: Fuzzy expectations. Clarity is a beautiful thing. When you’re establishing a relationship with a PR firm, it is important to spell things out clearly from the start.

Begin with a clear statement of exactly why you are hiring the firm. What’s the goal? What do you hope to achieve? If you’ve gone through an RFP process to hire a firm, you’ve probably had to think through the answer and put it down in writing. That is a good first step. If you can explain clearly why the firm has been hired – not only the official reason but the cultural dynamics that led to the decision – you are giving your agency a huge gift. You’re giving them their marching orders.

Remember, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That is, if a strategy is not in sync with your company’s culture, it will be the strategy that suffers. So if you have a strategy in mind when you hire an agency, be sure it is consistent with the company’s culture. And be sure your agency understands that culture on the front end.

Another place for clarity is in the area of budget. When you are beginning a relationship focused on communicating your good news, it can be an exciting time. But don’t let the excitement keep you from working to establish cost parameters and making sure everyone understands and accepts them.

Mistake #2: Lack of transparency. Like most relationships, a client-agency partnership is all about trust. You need to share all the information the PR firm will need to present your organization in the best light – in other words, they need to know a lot more than you want the rest of the world to know. It will then be up to the agency to use that information discreetly and wisely. If they fail, then they weren’t the right agency for you. But if you don’t share information openly with them, their chances of success are greatly diminished, especially if they are caught off guard.

Mistake #3: Taking only the advice you want to hear: One important value of an agency is its distance from the inner workings or your organization, which allows objective counsel. So take their advice, even if it’s not what you want to hear – even if it’s to talk to the media when you don’t want to.

Case in point: We represented a company that had reason to believe a local media outlet was biased against them. As a result, they had refused to talk to that outlet, and the resulting coverage they received was negative – thereby reinforcing the impression of bias. Our assessment, after reviewing coverage, was that the perception of bias was incorrect. We could see why our client had a concern; but we believed the media outlet would provide objective coverage if presented with information in an open fashion, and so we advised the client to visit the outlet. Reluctantly, they agreed. The result was a cathartic – and lengthy – clearing of the air between both groups, and resulting media coverage which was not only fair but extremely thorough and accurate, resulting in a happy client.

Ultimately, the worst mistake you can make is thinking your relationship with a PR firm will be mistake-free. Mistakes happen. Dealing with them is what good PR firms do best.

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