Every now and then I hear about a business that hired a PR firm and got ‘nothing’ for the money they spent. I hate hearing that because I think for the most part my colleagues in the world of PR do their utmost to help their clients.
Still, a bad client experience can happen to the best firms despite their best intentions. But mistakes are not always committed exclusively by the PR firm. On occasion some of the fault rests with the client, or, more often than not, with both parties.
Here are some reasons why things go amiss between well-intentioned PR firms and their clients:
Unrealistic expectations: sometimes clients want to get into publications like the Wall Street Journal or TV news outlets like the Today show. Only a very, very small number of companies can ever get into such big-name national news outlets. Failure to set realistic expectations at the start of an engagement will prime the pump of client disappointment.
Over promising: some PR firms may over promise what they can deliver. If you hear a lot of promises and guarantees that you will get tons of media placements, especially from a salesperson at the PR firm, then run in the other direction. Most PR professionals will do their best to set realistic expectations and make sure you understand that PR is about ‘earned media,’ which is not something that can be guaranteed and is subject to the vagaries of a fast-changing news industry.
High price: some clients think that if they spend more money on a larger PR firm with more resources then they will get better results. Unfortunately, that assumption is often misguided. For instance, many startups in Silicon Valley spend outrageous sums of money for PR firms when they could get similar results at a much lower cost by hiring a qualified tech PR firm from another market.
Poor communication: for a PR campaign to be successful there must be open lines of communication. A PR firm is only as good as the client allows it to be. In other words, clients who meet often with a PR firm to brainstorm new ideas are bound to find more opportunities to get valuable news mentions.
Contractual accountability: PR firms must be held accountable, but so should clients. Often when a PR firm fails to deliver the goods, it’s partly attributable to a lack of accountability on one or both sides of the transaction. The client contract should address the roles of both client and PR firm and spell out expectations and deliverables through each phase of the engagement.
Junior talent: some PR firms assign junior talent to their accounts, which is okay as long as they are properly supervised and coached by senior members of the firm. What sometimes happens in larger PR firms is that smaller accounts (even ones paying $10,000/month!) tend to get less attention from the higher-ups and that dearth of experience and talent negatively impacts the outcome of the engagement.
Expertise: while I am a firm believer in the adaptability of PR professionals to most any industry or communications task, there may be a situation where a lack of industry expertise becomes the fulcrum for failure. A PR firm might excel at getting wearable tech startups plenty of news but fall flat on its face working with a B2B, Internet-of-Things startup in the solar industry. Another may be great at getting placements in lifestyle magazines but miss the mark when it comes to managing communications during a crisis facing a company.
References: a final way PR firms may end up failing in an engagement is due to a client not checking on references. When a PR firm wants to win a new account it will say and do just about anything to come out on top. A client can enhance its chances for a positive outcome by talking with a PR firm’s other clients and quiz the firm’s management team on specifics related to prior engagements. If something doesn’t feel right then it’s better to address it immediately rather than wait until you are half way through an engagement and wondering why the whole project timeline went sideways.
Bottom-line, it’s really up to both parties to work together and make a PR engagement a success. If an engagement fails to produce the results you expected, do more than point the finger – dig a little deeper to understand the true cause in order to get it right the next time around.
About Dave Manzer: Dave Manzer founded an Austin tech startup PR firm for startups and emerging-growth businesses in 2009. Dave Manzer specializes in highly integrated PR & marketing strategies that help companies in technology, healthcare, consumer and professional services reach their goals in brand awareness and revenue growth. To contact Dave about the PR over Coffee blog, feel free to tweet him at @davemanzer or email him at dave(@)davemanzer.com.