Brand awareness, thought leadership, increased executive visibility, crisis communications preparedness . . . the laundry list of reasons companies should hire PR representation goes on and on, and a capable agency should provide all this and more. The decision to hire an agency should not be taken lightly and there are some common are pitfalls that should be avoided to ensure success. From unscrupulous agencies to recognizing your own misguided preconceptions; here are seven reasons you should not hire a PR agency.
- You Want to be on Oprah
You may have two years left to have your company or product become one of "Oprah's Favorite Things" before the Diva of Consumer Influence moves to cable, but don't hold your breath. Sure, the "Oprah Effect" is a well documented marketing and sales tool--it drove brands like Spanx into the public consciousness, gave birth to pop-culture personas like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, and turned books like She's Come Undone and The Kite Runner into bestsellers. But don't request, demand, ask or even suggest to your PR agency that they get you on Oprah. The odds of getting on the show are against you. Their time--and your money--would be better spent on activities that yield results via other media. This also sends a huge red flag to the agency that you have no idea what PR is all about.
<insert ad here>
- You Want to Spend Less Time on PR
Many executives think hiring a PR firm means they'll spend less time on PR. Not true. Depending on your role at your company, it's likely you will be spending significantly more time on PR and PR-related activities. If you're the company spokesperson, you should expect to spend up to 20 percent of your time speaking on behalf of the company through a variety of traditional, social and unmediated (conference) channels. If your efforts are optimized correctly, you should be spending more time on PR initiatives while the agency is mining and vetting new, relevant opportunities.
- The Agency is Willing to Take Equity In Lieu of Cash
I'm all for "growing" with and investing extra time in clients, but PR agencies also have hard costs that they need to cover. Many companies assume that agencies that accept equity in lieu of cash will be more incented because they will have "skin in the game." This is not accurate. Agencies most often accept this arrangement because they are betting on the outcome or because they think they can apply a magic PR formula they've used for other clients with similar needs or in related industries. There certainly are stories of PR agencies and their clients doing very well accepting equity over the years, but that arrangement's rarely, if ever, in lieu of cash. If you really want to go the equity route, consider offering a mix of cash and equity. That way the agency will maintain its focus on you as a real client and you won't play second fiddle to paying clients.
- It's the Least Expensive Agency You Could Find
The old adage "you get what you pay for" is absolutely true. Go with the least expensive agency and you can expect little--if any--attention from the agency's principals. In addition, the lowest-cost option means you should be prepared to chase down your account rep for ideas, activities and updates, and your account representative is likely to be the least experienced. Keep in mind you will be just one of a dozen or so clients she is working on. So, take a number and good luck. 'Nuff said.
- Agency Fees Are on a Per Media Placement Basis
If a "smile and dial" factory is what you want, and you subscribe to the notion that all PR is good PR, then go ahead and hire a shop that bills by placement. Be warned, however, that you will likely have to make sacrifices, including the quality of the pitch and the quality and relevance of the outlets being targeted. If that's what you're looking for, then what you really need is an ad agency, not a PR agency. Agencies earn their media but they are not and should not be rewarded by placement per se--they should be compensated for their strategy and time spent on your behalf. If you want, go ahead and offer them an incentive for reaching mutually agreed upon goals, but this is on top of their hourly fees and not in place of them.
- The Agency Is Guaranteeing a Minimum Number of Media Placements
Similar to my point above, if clips is all you want--at any cost and placed anywhere--then go for it. But strategic PR agencies aim for quality over quantity, always. Volume follows great stories.
- You Want Media Placements in the Next 30 Days
Any agency that promises hits within 30 days is full of you-know-what. Sure, many agencies have strong starts at the beginning of a client engagement and can hit the ground running, but the agencies that make this promise typically have a list of media that they target over and over and it may not be the kind of outlets that help you move your business forward. Smart, sustainable, credibly earned campaigns take time to develop and cultivate. You should expect to start seeing media momentum within 60 to 90 days depending on news cycles and story angles.
Named one of the top "40 Under 40" by industry touchstone PR Week, Aaron Kwittken is the founder and CEO of boutique public relations agency Kwittken & Company. In just four years, he has rapidly grown the company into a competitive industry player, boasting a roster of iconic brands and a staff of multi-specialists.