Thursday, March 17, 2011

6 Warning Signs a PR Firm is Not What it Seems

There are a lot of bad PR people out there, as there are in any industry. If you are trying to hire a PR agency and notice any of these issues run like hell.

1. A Room with a beautiful view – I had a colleague who was convinced PR agencies used the same tactic as pharmaceuticals - hire a lot of young, beautiful women to sell their products and services, because let's face it the majority of doctors are still men. There are some extremely bright and attractive young people in the PR business. But PR is also famous for bait and switch. If the agency gray hairs do all the talking in a room and you have a handful of young, very attractive people who only say a few scripted remarks, chances are those are your new account executives. Ask how many vice presidents the PR agency has who are under 30? That’s a good way to check what’s really going on.

2. That’s a brilliant idea – You’re not hiring a PR agency to tell you what you want to hear. If your ideas are so great you would just implement them yourself, right. I had a boss once who would sit in a room with our CEO and repeat back exactly what he’d said a few minutes earlier in different words, and glow when he praised her. She had grown up in a Fortune 500 company, and was very good at it, but if you were paying attention you would notice she had nothing to say.

3. We know him, her and every journalist in your field and they take our calls This person is lying. Media has gone through so many upheavals in the past few years that no one knows everyone anymore. Name dropping in my opinion, is just obnoxious, unless it is done very sparingly and only to emphasize something you are already saying. Fortunately we live in the age of easy search – get a client list and Google recent stories about some of their biggest clients. Ask for the Today Show or evening news clips, articles about their clients by the famous columnist they know well, and that NPR story they are so proud of.

4. An outdated web site – If the PR company you are talking too has case studies from 10 years ago, no video or visuals, inactive social media spaces, no blog or a just plain outdated web site run like the wind. I've heard the excuse I'm too busy to redo my site many times but you know what, we're in an image business. Your web site is your image as are your social media spaces. What matters is the quality and currency of the information they put out there. We live in a very fast moving world and if the PR company hasn’t updated their look, materials, etc. they don’t live in it. What kind of message does old stuff send to a potential client?

5. You don’t need media training – Everyone needs media training before starting a campaign, no matter how big their ego or how many interviews they’ve done. I had a client once who used the exact same quote in every interview he did, and thought he sounded young, hip and brilliant. There are benefits to sticking to your messages but he came off as having only one thing to say which when you searched his interviews didn’t make him look very smart. The media training doesn’t have to be a full-blown, multi-tiered, many thousands of dollars deal, but at the very least – no matter how small the budget is – new messaging and mock interviews are really important.

6. Our expertise and role in the formation and dissemination of messages to all stakeholders is of value across the spectrum of traditional media as well as increasingly called upon by numerous new media options. English please? This lovely sentence came off the web site of one of the biggest PR agencies in the world. There are just way too many people out there that hide behind big empty words that don’t tell you anything about them. Many people are comfortable with that, it sounds like they write I guess. But the fact is if you can’t tell me your point of difference, then you don’t have one.


  1. interesting points thanks

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