Hiring a PR firm can bring attention to your company, its services, products and people. But public relations is not a hit-and-run venture; long-term strategies combine with short-term tactics to create a strong brand and positive reputation. Therefore, it is to everyone’s benefit that the relationship between the client company and the PR firm is a lasting one.
Occasionally, however, the relationship doesn’t work out, and while there are often various reasons cited, the problem usually boils down to a flawed vetting process when the firm was first hired.
Avoiding the following pitfalls can lead to a truly successful collaboration between client and firm.
1. Great Expectations. Public relations is not a magical enterprise. It involves creativity, hard work and dedication to the client’s interests. And it often takes some time before you see results. What can happen in the first meeting between the PR firm and a prospective client is an unconscious collaboration: the client wants to think the public relations person can make his company successful overnight, and the public relations person lets him think this because he wants him as a client. This can only lead to disappointment on both sides. Most experienced public relations professionals will tell you what is – and is not – possible to achieve for your type of business and your budget. A long-term productive relationship is more satisfying for both the client and the PR firm than a short-term honeymoon.
2. Choosing the Wrong Size Firm. One frequent complaint that clients voice about their PR firm is that the top executives presented a wonderful proposal to them, but they rarely heard from those people again. Instead, their account was assigned to someone new to the firm, and they didn’t feel they got the attention – or the results – they deserved. PR firms survive for the most part on the billable hours that make up the client’s fee. If your company is paying a fee at the low end of a firm’s fee schedule, you will probably get assigned to one of its less seasoned staff. Larger firms usually charge higher fees to cover their higher overhead costs. PR firm fees can range from $5,000 to $30,000 per month or more, so if a fee of $10,000 per month seems like a huge expenditure to you, it’s best to choose a smaller firm.
3. Not Knowing What You Want. From the point of view of the public relations professional, the most difficult clients to satisfy are the ones who really don’t know what they want. Meetings abound, ideas are put forward and shot down – as the public relations person tries fruitlessly to read the client’s mind. In the end, everyone is frustrated. This outcome can be avoided with some advance planning. Before your first meeting with a firm, do some internal brainstorming and be ready to state your goals and the principal audiences you want to reach with your messages. If you are doing a small project, such as a brochure or website, show examples of the kinds of things you like, your current stationery or logos, and some of your competitors’ materials. You will save time and money by being prepared.
4. Being Cagey about your Budget. Some business owners think that if they talk about their budget upfront, the PR firm will “spend it all – and then some.” But the cost of public relations programs can vary greatly, depending on your goals and your budget. Be clear about both. If you outline goals that require extensive work with expensive outside services and act like money is no object, expect the PR firm to present a proposal for a big program that costs a lot – maybe more than you can afford. If you are honest about how much you have to spend, you have freed the firm to discuss what can be accomplished within your budget. Give the firm a chance to show you what they can do with a smaller budget. Then you will have a more accurate picture of the firm’s resources, creativity and capabilities.
5. Hiding Negative Information. When you are interviewing a PR firm, be open about the possibility of any negative publicity that may be on the horizon involving your company. Public relations people need to know these things – not just at the beginning, but throughout the relationship – in order to plan accordingly. Managing negative news is much more effective when done early on, before it festers and grows into a costly crisis.
Finding the right PR firm doesn’t have to be a shot in the dark. Check with your local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Ask other business people for their recommendations, and visit the firms’ websites. Interview several firms to see if they might be the right size and have the right background and experience level to do the job. Ask for a written proposal. Once you feel comfortable that a firm understands your business, your budget and what will be needed to achieve your goals, take the plunge. You will probably be pleasantly surprised.