Taking on the PR Agency Haters

It is once again de rigueur to slam PR agencies.

I learned this from a prospect who clued me in to a podcast and Forbes article (the former by uber influencers who should know better; the latter was generally negative on agencies but had some great points).

Before I go further, sure, I agree that PR does have its bad actors, just like any profession; and don’t have an issue with fair criticism. I am against clueless flaming.  Below I list a few examples, including ones I’ve covered before.

The Marketing Guru

If you want my respect as someone who understands PR, please don’t gloat about all the agencies you have hired and fired.  This just tells me you are not as smart as you think you are. 

I am referring to two recent pieces by marketing folks who seemed to take glee in repeatedly giving agencies the ax. In the first, Neil Patel and his sidekick Eric Siu trash the idea of hiring a PR agency, citing success with a single campaign led by in-house PR that drove lots of signups. This is described as hacking free PR.  They both decried PR to build brand and implied that you need to choose between product PR and the former.

I had this one friend recently talk to a bunch of top CEOs and the consensus is this: the 10, 15, 20K retainer that you might pay one of the top PR firms – they generally amount to nothing. 

I’ve actually canned a couple of PR companies… the top PR machine is generally the leader…  It’s not to hire out a firm that you pay and may not get anything back.  From my experience, that’s the trouble with PR companies…

Eric Siu

Neil agreed and went on to plug a couple of friends who offer pay-for-performance PR.  We can save the topic of performance-based PR for another post.  Suffice it to say that this is not a winning strategy. 

Udi Ledergor begins the  Forbes piece: The Brand-PR Relationship Is Evolving, And The Industry Needs To Adjust with this comment:

I’ve hired and worked with more than a handful of public relations agencies over the past 15 years. I fired them all within a year or so.

Udi Ledergor

It gets better from there.  He points out the challenges of working with traditional PR agencies amidst a changing landscape:

I believe it’s the typical public relations (PR) model that’s broken…The market has moved on and, based on what I’ve seen, the PR industry has yet to adjust.

Last time I had to say goodbye to a PR firm we hired was a couple of years ago. They went through all the motions…  update calls on media outreach and stories they were developing, checking in with us to see if we had some exciting news…. and explaining that… stories… weren’t going to happen because the reporters they had pitched to simply didn’t find them compelling enough.

Udi Ledergor

Um, Udi, sounds like you need an evolved agency that is more proactive and creative (hint hint!). He goes on to point out specific ways that PR needs to change and puts the onus on brands too.

The Churner

A close cousin to the marketing guru is the churner.  These are the companies that burn through agencies and are the worst kind of clients.

Churners would never admit to hating PR firms but show their contempt by always complaining about their current or last agency, and swearing they’d up their PR game if they only they could just find the perfect partner.

This breed is famous for treating the PR firm like “arms and legs,” just another vendor, and for setting unreasonable expectations while doing blessed little to support the program.

PR agency churners would be well advised to read Udi’s piece, and heed his words:

But PR firms cannot carry all the blame for a failed brand-PR relationship; a brand must assist a firm in understanding its needs and what it hopes to gain.

Udi Ledergor

Armchair Flacks

I’ve written before about armchair flacks.  Like armchair quarterbacks, they are great at calling the plays without having played in the pros.  These are all the CEOs, VCs, and journalists who claim to have solved the PR puzzle without using actual PR people.

They come in various sub-flavors.  The blustery tech industry hotshot like Mark Cuban; his post from 2014 deriding agencies circulated again recently; I addressed this in Tech startups, Want to Go Big? Get PR Help, for the Love of God. The jaded journalist, like John Biggs, whom I wrote about here (at least his rant was entertaining, he won points for style).

Those who are interested in this topic might also like my posts Startup PR Myths Debunked and Startup PR Myths Busted, via NY Tech Meetup.

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