Walk the Talk

We’ve been interviewing a number of local PR agencies lately, and I have to say, for the most part, it has been a disappointing exercise. They talk and talk without truly understanding that this is the equivalent of a job interview, and we expect them to be at the top of their game. If someone is looking for a top-notch agency, have your act together and prove it. Let me give you some examples of what we’ve experienced:

  • “Our owners are heavily involved with all of our clients”—Really? They why aren’t they here? If you are going to talk about how involved the owners are, make sure they are there. And if that’s the case, they can tell us themselves.
  • “If you’re just looking for someone to write press releases, I can recommend some other people to do that”—Great! Who are they? Oh, you’re not going to actually tell me. Then don’t say it in the first place.
  • “We can throw somebody at [your project]”—I hope they don’t get hurt in the process. We are looking to hire an agency to support us, not writer’s pool looking to be hurled at the project du jour.
  • “We call you weekly or bi-weekly to give you updates and send you a monthly activity report, because we’ll get in trouble with the owners if we don’t”—Oh, I see. Not because it’s the right thing to do.
  • “We do media relations training”—Then why are you incapable of answering a basic question without stumbling through it and looking to someone else for help. If you train in media relations, pretend you are on the podium and in front of a camera.
  • “PRSA says you can measure ROI by taking the column inches in the publication (or the number of minutes on television), applying the equivalent ad value, and multiplying by three”—Um, no. That is your return on investment not mine. PRSA is an admirable association, but that is not a measurement of a client’s ROI. I measure my ROI by the actual benefit I receive from the PR activity—sales, number of new clients, registrations. If your activity cannot be associated with something truly measurable for the client, you cannot claim ROI. In other words, if their business doesn’t grow, you didn’t offer them a return. And that is OK, if growing the business isn’t an objective.
  • “Other agencies do…(whatever)”—I don’t care what other agencies do. I want to know what you do. I’m talking to other agencies, so I’ll judge for myself what they do. I don’t want to know what you have to say about other agencies unless you are speaking specifically about what a competitor does well that you admire or you are giving me a reason that you left that particular agency that is significantly different at your new one. Even then, be careful what you say.
  • “We told our client to do [this particular newsworthy event]”—We heard this from two different agencies. About the exact same thing. Yep, one was taking credit for the other’s work. I don’t know who was who. At that point, it didn’t matter, since both had several of the problems already mentioned.

Again, when you are pitching potential clients, it is a job interview. You have to be spot on your game. If your heart isn’t in it, if this isn’t the most important thing you are doing at that moment, don’t even bother to show up. It will be less embarrassing that way.

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