Thursday, September 24, 2009

Four warning signs that you need a new PR firm

Since car leases first became the rage in the early 90's, consumers have rushed in to get identical deals to the ones they see on TV commercials. But as personal finance magazines warned, if you did the lease math, you'd find out that generally they were not the best deals you could get.

Many companies' relationships with their PR firms operate very much on the same principal: they settle, they're comfortable, and they think they are getting a fair shake.

They either don't know or have a bar of measurement to assess if they are really getting acceptable work. Sometimes they are too preoccupied with other matters to assess PR. Sometimes they are in flat out denial that they hired a dud, so they just keep writing them checks as an act of charity. Sometimes it's all nice and comfortable, nobody wants to hurt anybody's feelings -- they receive a slap on the butt as a warning sign and then it's back to where it was.

The fact is, many clients have no idea what they may be missing, and they could have it so much better. Like that car lease, how do you know it's time to trade in and get a better PR ROI?

Here are the warning signs that it's time to move into a new vehicle:

LACK OF IDEAS: This could be the number one complaint when I speak with potential clients dissatisfied with their current arrangement. "We have to give them ideas," they often say, "not the other way around." Executives are already busy running their companies and doing their jobs, they should not be doing the PR firm's as well. Which reminds me one of my favorite sayings: "If a client doesn't know what you are doing, they think you're doing nothing."

LACK OF SERVICE: Public relations is a service business. It's not just about producing super placements, but all the little things that go with it. What would Neiman Marcus be if they put your beautiful purchases in plastic bags, didn't handle your alterations expertly or had nice chairs for you to wait in? In public relations, the equivalent means being prepared in advance for media interviews, receiving placements on a timely basis, getting a strategic game plan, discussing and being well informed on the playing field, and the ability to anticipate needs before you have to complain about them.

THEY DON'T "GET IT": There's always an "education period" where the publicist learns first-hand about the intricacies of the client's product and ideally how to use it, what it means, and its messaging. One or two months fly by, there's very little press to show, and it seems that the PR team is spinning its wheels trying to figure out how to do its job. You have some more meetings to explain things that result in a couple of hits, but still, it's nowhere what you'd expect. You demand to speak with the company's president, who goes into emergency salvage mode, and throws different people on the account.

ALL THEY DO IS PUMP OUT PRESS RELEASES: While issuing press releases over paid news services like PRNewswise, BusinessWire and PRWeb has its questionable SEO benefits, most reporters don't even bother reading them unless they're from a public company. Good public relations is about relationships and developing your story, so if you're not speaking with genuine reporters and bloggers, but instead paying newswire bills and being shown hits on irrelevant sites like "earthtimes.org" or "newsblaze.com," something is wrong.

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