A successful partnership with a PR agency should fill needs and solve problems in creative, strategic and mutually beneficial ways, and a good PR firm will go the extra distance to please. There are times, however, when clients need to know what’s not appropriate to ask of their agency. So, how does a business know what’s off limits? With apologies to Stacey and Clinton, here are five examples of “What Not To Ask.”
Don’t ask your PR firm to perform (media) miracles. More than once a client has demanded that their PR agency commit to generating a certain number of national story placements, or to guarantee coverage in a specific outlet. If only it were that simple! Work with an agency partner to establish realistic media relations KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and appropriate story angles.
Don’t ask your agency to take on tasks better suited to others. At times PR agency staff are asked to run interference with unhappy customers, give the boss a hair or wardrobe makeover, or weigh in on a personal crisis. Now, some agencies can and do offer specialized services that go far beyond strategy and media relations, but if that’s not the case, or if the task is better suited to a personal assistant (or friend!), it’s best to collaborate with others. Agency teams are selling their talent and their time, and neither should be wasted.
Don’t ask your PR partner to arbitrarily lower their fees. Agencies plan and budget according to formulas that guarantee consistent service to clients. Sometimes a client has a good or unavoidable reason to ask for a fee reduction (lower than projected sales, changes in management, etc.) but in these cases, they should expect the service level and outcomes to change. Agencies are in business to make a profit, just as their client companies are.
Don’t ask your PR team to “borrow” someone else’s ideas. Presumably, you chose the agency based on their own merits, so let them develop the strategy and creative tactics. Just because a particular creative approach worked before doesn’t guarantee that it will catch fire for a second or third round. On the other hand, if a client believes the agency is driven more by their own egos than the client needs, they should cut bait.
Don’t ask your agency to do anything immoral or insulting. This includes pulling your agency partner into competitive research that has morphed into “industrial espionage” or asking them to take the blame for a mistake that wasn’t theirs. It can also include being asked to share a hotel room with a person of the opposite sex in the name of cost-savings (yes, this actually happened!). Also, as we’ve all learned from the Brian Williams fiasco, lying or even obfuscating is never a good strategy. In the digital age, untruths are usually exposed, and the damage may be lasting.