Home > PR Agency, Public Relations Strategy > Why PR in a Vacuum Sucks

Why PR in a Vacuum Sucks


Some interesting conversations came from last week’s assertion (by me) that PR in a vacuum sucks, so let me clarify a few items. While the main point was pretty straight forward, it left a few questions unanswered.

So, what is so bad about operating in a vacuum anyway? Well, nothing I suppose. There are plenty of opportunities for PR folks and agencies to represent clients that desperately need some PR help – even if (maybe especially if) these companies don’t know how to help themselves. This post isn’t about trashing companies that don’t commit to their own PR program, nor is it about criticizing agencies for taking on these clients. This is really designed to shed some light on the fact that as much as we (the PR industry) like to discuss the power of PR and what it takes to be a good client, we rarely discuss the consequences of a program that is operating in a vacuum. This leads to the next obvious question.

Who should drive a PR program? Well, I’ve had this discussion many times. And, while my agency friends hate to admit it, truth is that the client needs to drive the program. Maybe this is a case of semantics, but if you acknowledge that every organization is unique and one-size-doesn’t-fit-all in PR then you have to agree that the program must be driven by some degree by the client. Disagree? 

A client driving PR doesn’t meant that the PR agency is simply tactical arms and legs for that client. It doesn’t mean that the agency is providing value by simply being ‘yes men’ it just means acknowledging that clients are unique and their specific goals, expertise, experiences, leadership and assets must be driving forces behind the PR program. Still disagree? 

When does the PR counsel end? This is an obvious question that I missed in my original piece. This question comes as a result of a Twitter conversation with Lou Hoffman and decilea. Lou isn’t wrong to say (and I hope I’m not putting words in his mouth) that PR agencies have a responsibility to sell their counsel, but my take is that at the end of the day clients are adults and they are the ones responsible for their company’s PR program.

As a client, I’d want my PR advisor to steer me in the right direction, I’d rely on their advice and counsel, but at the end of the day it isn’t necessarily incumbent on them to sell me on their decision. The agency should make a clear and strong case for their advice, but if I’m the client, I will make the decision and I’d expect the agency to execute.

So, why not sell harder? Part of the reason it isn’t always the agency’s job to convince a client to do things a certain way, is because the beauty of PR is that there isn’t only one way to do anything. You see this all the time, an agency tells a client that an announcement requires a week to pre-brief reporters via phone, but the client is determined to brief reporters face-to-face the day of the announcement. Well, maybe not ideal, but a good PR person can make that work too. Okay, that is a pretty tactical example, but the idea is that in PR we often have to make do under less than ideal circumstances.

Before anyone misreads the above as undervaluing the strategic aspect of PR, let me be very clear. My position is that PR is extremely valuable and it should be treated as such, and this means investing in internal resources to drive a PR program with the help of an external agency. But, just in case, make sure that agency is flexible and able to execute – even if it is in a vacuum.

Photo by aopsan

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