Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How Not To Look For A PR Firm #2: My nephew, the publicist

Years ago, my firm was basically the finalist to win a new media account. We aced the interviews, and had what we thought was a great meeting with the division's chief executive, really almost to receive a blessing of everybody else's decision.

But as they say, it ain't a done deal until they sign on the dotted line. I received a phone call from the client's editorial director who basically said, I don't know how to tell you this, but the chief executive has decided to give the work to his wife's cousin. And she's never handled anything like us before.

She added the kicker: they're a nice person and all, but they don't seem to know much about what we do.

One miserable year later for them, with virtually nothing to show for hiring the chief executive's wife's cousin, they came back aboard for what turned out to be a long term client.

Now, I've given a couple of nieces and a nephew summer internships in the past. All three were interested in public relations, so unless they were wanted criminals or couldn't act civilized, having them come aboard in that role made sense. I even had them meet my staff before making the official offers. Thankfully, my extended family is still talking to me.

However, just because a member of your family is in public relations means they are the right person for the project. You don't send an electrician to do a plumber's job. Would you have an eye doctor perform open heart surgery on you?

Yes, we all want to give Uncle Joe a break and your heart is in the right place. However, it's hard enough to run a business with family members, and now you're going to hire them just because they are in public relations too?

Hiring a public relations firm means keeping in mind a few criteria: expertise, strategic thinking, creativity, and impressive accomplishments in your field. Can your cousin Pee Wee honestly provide all of those things without incurring the wrath of your colleagues and peers?

One of my other favorite family incidents is when a client's COO and I were discussing whether the company's president should be positioned as an "expert" or "an icon" (don't ask!). Shortly into the conversation, he said (and I paraphrase): "I just spoke to my cousin Mandy who is in public relations, and she wants to know why we haven't done this or that, have you reached out to this person, and she thinks our guy should be an 'expert' in everything with youth culture."

Whoa! Hard to argue with that! Not the time to argue about who cousin Mandy was and what she did, but I certainly was thinking, "heck, let Mandy run the PR then!"

The punchline came less than two years after we parted ways with that client. We were interviewing candidates for a manager's position and one woman told me early on in our meeting "I think you know my cousin."

Who's that?

You guessed it -- that former client's COO. Here before me was "Cousin Mandy."

I wouldn't exactly call that family reference a ringing endorsement.

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