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When Not to Hire a PR Firm

Earlier this week a headline in Inc. magazine piqued our interest: it read “8 Reasons Not to Hire a PR Firm”. We were intrigued by author Jeff Haden’s premise and the fact that the article stemmed from an interview with Finn Partners CEO Richard Funess, so we thought we’d go through his points one by one from the other side of the equation.

Here are the reasons the article gave for startups and small business owners to “save [their] money” and avoid paying for public relations representation.

Haden and Funess believe that you, as a potential client, shouldn’t hire an agency “in specific and in general” if:

You don’t have a clear idea how you will measure results

Fair point. We recently heard someone within the industry tell us that a lack of metrics is a major reason that business owners often see advertising as a more concrete investment than PR. And we completely agree that businesses should have clear ideas about their goals before even considering PR. Still, holding firms to absolute numbers or asking them to promise certain results is probably not a great idea.

You want a particular agency simply because it had success with a competitor

Funess asks, “If they did such a great job with the competitor, why aren’t they with them anymore?” Yet, as Jennifer Leggio of Forbes points out, this issue is more complex than the article implies. Anyone who followed the Lucky Strike plotline on Mad Men knows that sometimes brands simply drop firms or ad agencies because management decides that it’s time for a refresh in spite of past successes—and an agency that has worked in your industry would come to the table with a surfeit of valuable knowledge.

You feel simpatico with another agency…but this one is 25% cheaper

We completely agree here.

If you don’t see eye to eye with a given company, then no discount should be good enough to make you consider hiring them. Yet, as Leggio writes, no one should expect their PR reps to be “besties”. And setting a budget ahead of time might help you avoid this scenario.

You can’t picture this agency providing strategic counsel

It’s absolutely true that “Great PR firms are more than people with good media contacts”. And of course a firm with a deep history in your industry would be ideal. But expertise and experience are not one and the same. A good media contact list is invaluable—and it’s not a guarantee. A firm’s willingness to do the leg work is ultimately more important than its members’ personal familiarity with your particular niche.

You aren’t totally confident within the first five minutes

The value of first impressions is very real, but we feel like this particular line is a little arbitrary—unless you have a specific reason to mistrust a key team member, you should probably give each firm a little more than five minutes of your time.

All they talk about is traditional PR…

This is a helpful idea, but it is by no means an absolute. While we certainly agree that the most successful firms posses the ability to move beyond the traditional PR mindset, in certain cases the old-school approach happens to work best. You can’t dismiss a firm simply because they don’t immediately start diving into the details of social media or “owned content” strategy or because the person in charge of describing their digital approach doesn’t happen to be “close to the age of 30.”

Your ego won’t allow you to give credit to individuals at a PR firm for a job well done

We think most PR pros would agree vigorously with this point. You can’t really build a successful relationship with a firm if you’re not willing to credit its members for the work they do on your behalf. If this is truly an issue then the problem is you, not any specific firm.

You don’t view the relationship as a true partnership

Again this is a very important point. In fact, clients that go a step beyond the basic “partnership” to give honest feedback and personally complement their partners on shared victories will almost certainly facilitate a more mutually beneficial relationship.

While writing this post we realized that we agree with most of the larger points made in both articles—but we find the particulars and variables fascinating.

PR pros: have you read either of these pieces? If so, we’d love to get your thoughts on their individual points.

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