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The Seven PR Agency Commandments

The web is brimming with posts by journalists and bloggers warning PR pros what not to do when presenting clients or pitching stories. Sadly, there’s plenty of evidence that we have more to learn as an industry.

Yes, spamming pitches is a bad idea. But within a PR agency, there are other, more grievous sins. Here’s my list of bigger-picture PR “commandments.”

You will not overpromise.  Overpromising, particularly when it comes to publicity results, reinforces unrealistic  expectations, which is probably the single biggest reason why relationships fail. It’s an easy mistake, because even the most experienced PR professional cannot predict results with full accuracy. The most bedeviling error, however, is failure to even discuss client expectations, and the agency’s own requirements from the client.

You will know your client’s business. One of the most helpful things for me and my most high-achieving colleagues has been a knowledge of their client’s business. Sometimes this is based on relevant experience, but at the start, it should be driven by innate curiosity. If you don’t have a genuine interest and desire to know the business, the category, and all the ups and downs involved in the business, you are guilty of a sin of omission and probably should not be working with the client.

You will not give it away.  In our zeal to win the pitch, it’s very tempting to drop prices or give away our best thinking without proper compensation. Why? Typically it’s for competitive reasons, but it’s also because some PR professionals are insecure about the value of the service we provide. Resist the temptation and don’t sell yourself short.

You will always give honest counsel. We’ve all been there. A client pressures the team into writing a release about non-news. Or maybe he wants to tweet about 9/11 and casually mention the company’s new service, or obfuscate a negative development in an interview. We cannot always prevent a false step, but we owe it to our clients, and ourselves, to try.

You will take care of business.  In this business, we don’t always do unto ourselves as we would do for clients or prospects. The flipside of the disengaged practitioner is the PR pro who doesn’t dedicate the same attention to his own business.  Just because you’re in a creative industry doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know your own industry trends, watch the balance sheet and, keep an eagle-eye on cash flow, – or make sure a competent person is doing the same.

You will practice what you preach. It’s hard to advise clients to find the time for a content marketing or social media strategy if we’re not making a similar commitment in our own industry.

You will show your value. Years ago, a client CEO asked what my agency did that was distinct from our daily contact, the PR Director. Although we had a close and mutually trusting relationship with the PR Director, the question made me realize that our job was to add fresh value to the brand’s communications and reputation every day, and that no one else was as qualified to demonstrate and quantify that benefit.

The meek don’t win here; blessed are those who step up and show value!

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