Home > PR Agency, PR ethics > Companies Too Dependent on PR Agency?

Companies Too Dependent on PR Agency?

As a PR professional for over a decade and a half – mostly on the agency side – I’ve represented lots of companies from early stage start-ups to well established brands. Through no fault of PR, many of the companies I’ve represented no longer exist – some have been aquired, some have reinvented themselves, others have closed thier doors and there are probably others that I just don’t remember.

On a whim I recently searched (Google News) for four of my of my past clients – all of which are still in business – and there was one result. Not one results each, but one results in total. One guest written article. That is all.

When working for these companies the results varied, but safe to say each saw a significant amount of coverage. None of the relationships ended due to lack of coverage. During the engagements I feel like I did all I could to educate the client regarding strategy and tactics necessary for a successful PR program.

Yet none were able to maintain any media visibility. It is sad to see a company completely fall of the map, but part of me feels proud because these results proved that securing coverage for some clients is really really hard. Mostly I wondered WHY these companies were not able to maintain some momentum from their successful media relations programs.

A few lessons:

  • PR doesn’t happen by itself. It takes effort and resources.
  • The press release is still useful. Despite reports of the demise of the press release, it can prove valuable even for companies with out a dedicated media outreach program. A steady flow of press releases would have at least given the allusion of momentum. Not to mention the SEO benefits.
  • Part of the client / consultant relationship should include preparing the client for life beyond the initial relationship. Point of fact, even good client / consultant relationships end. Now, I’m not saying that PR consultants should consult their way out of a job, but what I am saying is that CLIENTS need to take full advantage of the PR resources they have hired.

I’d be interesting in hearing from other PR professionals:

  • Do you ever keep track of former clients?
  • Do your clients usually see a serious decline in coverage when the agency / consultant relationship ends?
  • Are your clients interested in building a program that lives beyond the agency / consultant relationship?
  • Do you think it is the responsibility of the consultant or the client to build a lasting program?
  • Is there more that the PR industry could / should do to build a program that lasts beyond the initial relationship?

Photo by Idea go

  1. January 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    This is interesting, as I often mention that I love to see my clients out-grow my services. It’s a wonderful feeling to nurture a client to the point where they need a large agency to take over. It’s like I’m a mama bird watching her baby bird fly from the nest for the first time. Except when the bird refuses to flap it’s wings and plummets to it’s death. Watching that is not as nice. Too bad it happens so often.

    I think for PR to be successfully implemented it needs to be constantly at the forefront of the company’s planning, development and implementation. When the agency steps away (regardless of the reasons) most companies do not do what it takes to fill the void, which seems like an incredible waste of time and resources. I think that’s why PR teams have to work as counselors – training clients and preparing them for the tools they will use in the future, when they mature (or run out of money). It’s a double edged sword, in a “if-clients-can-do-it-all-by-themselves-why-would-they-pay-us-way.” My approach has always been to teach my client everything I know and then do such a good job that they still want to keep me around.

    Regardless of the scope, practitioners and clients need to have a real conversation about their relationship and what it looks like at the beginning, the middle and the end.

    • January 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply…nice image of the bird plummeting to its death. I agree with your points completely. Part of the problem is that the PR function falls under the marketing department. When PR consultants are used to augment the internal corp. comms or PR function there tend to be less dead birds laying on the ground under the nest.

  2. January 10, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Paul I do believe, as you so eloquently stated, that some companies are too dependent upon PR agencies, but that can be good thing especially if the companies in question do not have any internal PR function. I look at the dependency as all a component of the public relations ecosystem. Like the rhino and the ox pecker bird relationship, both benefit. The company gets a much needed service that will help the their overall goal and the agency receives compensation for services rendered. I don’t ever think it’s beneficial for an agency to show a client how to do what they do on their behalf, it devalues the service and makes the agency irrelevant as a consideration for future use. Show them how to get some of the easy to get goodies but nothing beyond that.

    What I have a bigger problem with are companies with an in-house communications dept. that is heavily dependent upon the outside agency for not only hard tasks, but simple tasks as well as ideas. When there is an existing in-house comm team in place the outside agency should suppliment their communications efforts not replace them.

    • January 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm

      Yes, yes and yes. Agree all the way around. No doubt some companies – even with internal PR resources – are often too dependent on outsiders to drive the program. While I am an agency guy and have been most of my career, I feel many companies would be well served to build up its internal PR resources before hiring an agency. PR meeting with marketing once a month isn’t ideal, but it happens a lot.

      Thanks for taking the time to reply.

  3. January 13, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    To answer your questions,
    1. Yes we keep track of former clients, as we love to see what they are up to
    2. Indeed we do notice a decline in coverage once a client stops using a PR agency or PR freelancer
    3. Some of our clients want a quick fix, so don’t think of the long term. Typically slightly mature companies think long term.
    4. It’s up the the consultant to build a long term programme. That’s what the client pays you for.
    5. The PR industry needs to be be raise its own profile some more and ensure that clients understand that PR is not a short term fix.

    • January 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm

      Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to engage in this conversation. I really appreciate your insight. You make a very good point that the PR industry does have some responsibility here. Unfortunately there will always be PR consultants willing to take on the client looking for the quick fix because revenue does trump professional pride sometimes.

  4. January 14, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Paul, I think you forgot to mention that good PR takes good people who know the influencer landscape. While smart people can do some PR on their own, it is a skill that grows with experience, which is why you hire an agency or solo practitioner. The basic block and tackle of PR, crafting strong storylines and understanding influencers requires some knowledge, as well as someone’s time. Without dedicated resources, PR becomes a nice to have, not must have. In fact, you could argue that the decision to walk away from an agency shows that companies doubt the ROI of the results. Not everyone is a believer.

    Your thoughts?

    • January 15, 2011 at 2:40 pm

      Wow, Mr. Loftis ended a comment with a question…shocking. Seriously, you make a good point that not everyone sees the ROI of PR, but who wants to work for someone that doesn’t see the value? Again I have to say that companies with strong internal communications resources almost alway see the value of PR. I’m just saying.

  5. January 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Regarding the point about releases, I run my own PR agency based in Dubai and I can tell you that the release is nowhere near demise in this part of the world. I can safely say though that we are seeing a massive shift in exposure to online portals and social feeds. Given that our major clients are 100% online (cobone.com, sukar.com), it is important for our main news portals in the region to receive a constant stream of press kits to keep the momentum or we’ll drop like flies out of the results pane. SEO is a long way in this part of the world to be as powerful as the west but we’ll get there.

    I haven’t had a chance to see any past clients cause thankfully I don’t have any past one yes, although I do monitor competition and can see the difference if they slack on releasing material.

    Is there much we can do to maintain coverage after we break the relationship? I guess it depends on whether or not the news remains relevant to appear in search results 1-2 years after we stop the momentum.

  6. January 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Great post Paul… Enjoyed the read.

  1. January 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm
  2. January 11, 2011 at 8:13 am

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