In response to the embarrassing public spat between ContentNext founder Rafat Ali and his former PR firm, a reader had this to say:
I’ve worked as a senior corporate communications exec for three Fortune 500 companies and I’m confident in saying that 90% of PR firms add no value.
That’s a pretty serious charge. Based on the minor media mentions that Rafat’s former PR firm Brainerd Communicators touted as “terrific results,” however, it also rings true. If that’s what constitutes “terrific,” just about every dollar paid to a PR firm is wasted.
We asked the PR exec to explain what the 10% of good PR firms do, as well as how a company can avoid making the mistake of hiring the worthless 90%. Here’s the response:
In my experience, hiring a truly effective PR firm and getting real ROI requires:
* A crisp business strategy. Knowing who you are and where you want to go — and having an open mind about collaborating with a PR pro to make this vision more differentiated and provocative than it probably is currently. A good business plan isn’t necessarily newsworthy — accept that challenge.
* Talking with reporters relevant to your business and asking them whom they respect and who they believe bridges an understanding of their clients’ businesses with their needs as journalists. This list will be short.
* Talking with the agency’s clients (not just the reference clients they want you to talk to) and taking time to understand how they work together, what’s worked, and what hasn’t.
* Taking the time to understand the agency and its people. Do they think as strategically as you do about your business in its broadest terms, or are they tacticians whose POV is limited to PR? PR expertise is table stakes … you want to find a business partner who’ll challenge your thinking. Importantly, who at the firm will (really) work on your business? This is who you’re buying — not the dude in the Zegna suit who’s pitching your business.
Taking the steps above should eliminate most, if not all, of the PR firms you’re considering. Same advice goes for hiring in-house PR people, who in my experience have about the same effectiveness ratio as agencies. Still, luck and chemistry play a role too.
Anyone in the PR industry care to dispute the assertion that 90% of you add no value? Anyone else care to share thoughts on how companies can hire firms that actually ARE worth their fees?
Thanks in advance. We’d be glad to publish any thoughtful responses.
See Also: When PR Firms Get Fired
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