Seven avoidable reasons clients fire PR agencies
After spending more than a decade in public relations working at large global agencies, boutique firms and in-house - I’ve had the privilege of partnering with clients of all sizes and dynamics - and also being a client myself.
While the PR industry continues to evolve, one constant is that every client relationship should be built on a strong partnership based on trust, strategic counsel, expertise and results. Unfortunately, I’ve seen PR agency/client relationships dissolve when they could have been well avoided.
PR pros: below are the seven most common reasons why I’ve seen client relationships fizzle – and how to fix things before it’s too late.
Reason #1: You do the bait and switch
This typically happens during the new business stage. A client asks several PR agencies to come in and pitch for their business, and one agency (or more) brings in their senior execs - their seasoned “closers” - to the table. The client is impressed with the caliber of the proposed PR team and hands them the business. Shortly after, the senior executives are nowhere to be seen and the client is left with overwhelmed junior staff. Unsurprisingly, the client, frustrated by the lack of strategic counsel and transparency, terminates the relationship.
Solution: As PR pros, we always recommend that brands be authentic and honest - so why wouldn’t we in our client relationships? Sure, bringing in the most seasoned and articulate people could increase the chances of success (i.e. gaining the prospect’s revenue), however it’s a strategy steeped in short termism. You’re also denying your more junior staff - who also are brimming with ideas and enthusiasm - with invaluable experience. And who wants to develop the reputation as “the one that did the bait and switch” by an embittered client?
Reason #2: You don’t truly understand their business
The initial stages of a PR/client partnership are like a courtship. You’re getting to know each other, you’re excited about embarking on the relationship, and you’re in communication practically every day. As the dust starts to settle, however, it becomes apparent that you don’t fully understand the client’s business. Ideas fall flat. Maybe what you thought would be a great idea doesn’t seem to gel with the client, or that it’s not really in line with that the company does.
Solution: Schedule a kickoff meeting with the client to truly understand the business. Take a genuine interest about what they do, their products and services, how they are different from their competitors, what trends they can speak to, and their vision. Set up alerts and subscribe to other materials, such as newsletters and industry reports to follow not only the company, but their competitors and the broader industry. And ask a lot of questions. The beginning of a relationship is when you have the license to ask, so your recommendations are on target in the long-run.
Reason #3: Your ideas are stale or traditional
In an era where PR professionals should think beyond traditional media relations, the sky is the limit to uncovering new approaches to telling a client’s story. Even B2B communicators, who have historically lagged in adopting applications such as Snapchat, Instagram and Periscope, are coming up with ways to embrace these technologies to reach their audiences.
Still suggesting hackneyed press releases and surveys as tactics? You need to think more broadly than that.
Solution: Become well-versed in new PR approaches. Check out interesting campaigns from your peers and learn from them by signing up to workshops, training sessions and connecting one-on-one. Dedicate a portion of your time to learning about newer technologies so that you can incorporate these initiatives with confidence.
Reason #4: You can’t measure success
The PR industry has unfortunately lagged behind its marketing counterparts when it comes to measurement. While AVE (average measurement equivalent) has been decried as an inaccurate metric, it (sadly) hasn’t died completely.
However, other accepted measures – including volume of articles, tonality/favorability, depth of article and impressions – are increasingly not enough for clients and their stakeholders. Particularly when talking to the C-suite or to the PR uninitiated, some of these metrics seems vague in terms of how it then impacts the business.
Solution: Chat to your client and other key stakeholders about their business objectives and what they want to achieve from PR before jumping in with stock standard metrics. This will not only define your metrics, but also certainly justify your PR strategy and activities.
Think also about demonstrating the value of PR beyond measures that the marketing team will understand. For example, if a client needs greater sales enablement, customer stories in industry publications are a piece of collateral that can support its sales force. It’s a case of thinking holistically about what metrics to incorporate.
Reason #5: You don’t provide additional insights and value
While a PR agency is accountable to whatever metrics it sets for itself, a true partnership with a client is one where you are constantly coming up with valuable insights that a client wouldn’t have thought of themselves. Your clients expect you to have a strong pulse on their key influencers, PR trends and breaking news.
Solution: Read constantly and share interesting articles relevant to your client that also include a brief summary of why the article is important, how it relates to them, and what they can do about it. Identify new outlets and influencers. Push yourself to think outside of the box, and use ice-breakers to brainstorm ideas. While you may not be able to execute all your ideas, delivering a spate of thoughtful suggestions clearly shows your team’s worth.
Reason #6: You miss deadlines
Sure – we’re used to multitasking, and in the PR agency world you’re faced with pressures of juggling various clients, internal meetings and team management, new business development, pitching stories, and so much more. But when you’re not responsive to your client or consistently miss deadlines (especially those you’ve agreed upon) it not only sends a sign to your client that you’re unreliable or too busy – it also impacts their own deadlines and commitments to do their jobs.
Solution: Be realistic with your deadlines – and as the adage goes, under promise and over deliver. Factor in what you need to do and how long it will take against the other activities on your to-do list, and set a buffer where possible for non-urgent activities. Be accountable to your deadlines and send them after client calls to keep you on top of your tasks. And if for some reason – as inevitably happens – something comes up that throws your day off kilter, make sure to communicate well in advance with the client to negotiate a new deadline.
Reason #7: You haven’t built strategic relationships within the organization
Your relationship may be working out great with your main client, but how about if that person leaves, or if a new executive, such as a new CMO or CEO joins the company? All of a sudden, it may seem that your work is being scrutinized and you’ve been put on the defensive.
Solution: Make sure to establish relationships and value beyond your day-to-day contact. Get to know other stakeholders such as the CEO, head of sales/business development, head of product and others who can also play an intrinsic part in supporting (and advocating) your PR activity. Be clear on the value that you provide. And when there is a new executive on board, find the time to meet, learn about their goals, and showcase your results so you can continue to develop a strategic relationship with your client.
Client relationships may end for amicable reasons, but they could also cease due to a combination of the above reasons. Be passionate, proactive and look for ways to show value – it’s the path to becoming a trusted advisor and partner for all your clients.
By Lisette Paras - Founder & President, Gravitate PR