Assumptions colour attitudes to PR

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We often find when talking with prospective clients that we are faced with attitudes showing they think all public relations consultancies are much the same, and that past bad experiences with one consultancy are typical for all consultancies.

Sadly, this seems to have developed into generalisations that are damaging to the reputation of public relations. Yet they simply don’t apply to all consultancies.

Five such criticisms that we often come across, and that we find particularly annoying, are that consultancies:

Are not creative

This is a very common attitude – that organisations have to come up with ideas for their consultancy to implement. In an ideal world, creativity should be a partnership between client and consultancy – both should come up with ideas that can be discussed and developed jointly.

I’d like to think that we bring as many opportunities to clients as they suggest to us, as well as identifying internal opportunities clients may not see the significance of. And we don’t think we’re alone in this.

Insist on being gatekeepers to the media

It’s true that many consultancies want to control all media contact with their clients and may have good reasons for doing so. But organisations shouldn’t accept that this is the only way, or even the right way for them. 

For example, in financial services (our own area of specialisation) many journalists see themselves as part of the industry and have their own special contacts and sources. There is usually no need for consultants to insert themselves as a go-between in such relationships. Their time should be spent developing new ones for the client.

As long as all spokespeople know the organisation’s media policy, positioning and rules, and don’t simply use their contacts to promote themselves, or leak information to favoured journalists, they should maintain such relationships. Trust on all sides is critical.

Only want client contact when meter is running

This is a complaint we hear more than we should. We’ve even heard of a consultant charging a client to attend a celebratory dinner at the end of a successful campaign! 

Other consultancies are more generous with their time, and see the benefit in proving they are on the team by providing extra services that are not chargeable. We like to think we’re in this category with our regular forums and bi-annual receptions (pandemics permitting) and relationship building.

Don’t understand our industry

Again, a common complaint is that clients feel they deal with consultants – often juniors – that don’t understand their industry or what their organisation does. Yet there are many consultancies that specialise, such as we do in financial and professional services. 

We also have a policy of only having senior consultants work with clients. We’re not alone in this approach in financial services. But don’t ask us to promote a fashion line – we wouldn’t know where to start. Although a tourist board for an exotic overseas location like Tuscany or Champagne would give us something to dream about for the future!

Under-service and over-charge

This is a gripe we hear often and some organisations do seem to overpay for their public relations services. If so, then they only have themselves to blame. They agreed to the arrangements and should insist on some accountability. It is why we only seek to be paid for hours actually worked rather than large monthly retainers. We are sometimes gobsmacked when we hear the size of some retainers or how much was paid for a fairly straightforward project.

However, the overriding point is that not all consultancies are the same and shouldn’t all be tarred with the same brush.

Organisations should have a clear idea what they want from a consultancy, and the skills they expect, before they seek proposals. They should also agree what reporting should support the program, without going overboard so that a large part of the fee goes towards administration, not creative activity.

Such requirements should form the basis of the brief. Otherwise identifying the best consultancy for your needs is that much harder and more likely to lead to disappointment.