How to Hire and Fire a PR Client

This is a guest post by Courtney Lukitsch, founder and principal at Gotham PR.

This is a guest post by Courtney Lukitsch, founder and principal at Gotham PR.

September represents new beginnings in the world of PR and marketing around the globe, an exciting time for repositioning brands, launching new ventures and kicking off seasonal event series.

Many an annual retainer campaign is initiated in the month of September, for obvious, quarterly fiscal planning reasons. Leading up to and in tandem with this exciting timeframe, is the need to assess how and when to hire or fire an agency client.

This may be conducted through a system of reverse engineering and analysis based on desired outcomes for both the agency and the client and can be broken down into the following considerations:

  • Monthly Planning
  • Daily Communication
  • Weekly Parameters for Success
  • Tools to Achieve Goals
  • Defining Results

The smartest firms will budget accordingly— based upon billable hours and the inevitable over-servicing that goes into making most campaigns successful from a Marketing, PR, and new business development standpoint.

According to Growth Force it is more cost effective to hire an agency, client-side. Likewise, it is most cost effective for an agency to fire a client rather than hire a new team member to carry the added workload.

The relationship is 100 percent correlated. The benefits can be measured on a 1:1 ratio. In fact, the impact a good PR partner will make can drive the business client-side for years, through high profile press coverage and marketing and partnership introductions, not to mention leads pre-identified toward new business development that result in contracts.

Conversely, when communication begins to deteriorate between client and agency, usually around the 6-month mark, it is time to evaluate what each team wishes to accomplish beyond that juncture— assuming there is an annual contract in place. It is important to frankly open the dialogue in meetings, rather than try to manage it over email communication. Given the intense pace of most workplaces, nuance, meaning, and tonality are often lost, unless the agency sits down with C-level executives or Principals client-side.

According to experts at both Entrepreneur and PR Daily, the 7 reasons PR professionals should fire a client include:

  • Micromanagement by a client that results in reductive agency outcomes
  • The PR team develops a visceral reaction to a mention of the client’s name
  • Clients never ask your professional opinion, even though that’s why they hired an agency
  • The agency-client relationship is not based in a mutual respect
  • Playing the blame game when it relates to budget when the issue usually stems from the client over spending, or not having a viable PR budget to begin with
  • The client is unresponsive for weeks, even up to a month, and then claims— via email rather than in person or by telephone— that the agency is ‘”checked out”’ of their responsibilities or deliverables
  • Agency begins to hesitate when promoting the client’s service, product, or point of view with national media— due to lack of belief in client’s integrity or actual ability to deliver on results

As many agencies wisely plan their annual calendars long in advance, prospective clients are often surprised to learn, for example, that the following year’s roster is already confirmed four months before the new year. The smartest PR firms are highly selective in the manner they interview, pre-qualify and hire, or sign new client contracts. Clients are vetted in advance by an agency in the same way the agency must prove its merits, beyond reputation, for offering the highest level of service, value-add network of professional contacts, and global media coverage to the perspective clients.

It also comes as news to clients that they will need to dedicate a serious number of hours conducting positioning audits to help drive new business and storytelling strategies, hiring in-house talent, as well as undergoing media training and lengthy editorial interviews, photo shoots, and video work on camera.

This is to underscore that the Marketing PR relationship is a full time job, not an outsourced vendor relationship. A red flag scenario is one where a prospective client, that has not pre-researched a given agency’s specialization, calls to say, “We need your media contacts and will do the rest.” That is never true. If the skill set is already there, why would they have need of an agency in the first place?

Interesting insight is offered by First Round Review and an entrepreneur that heralds experience with 50 PR firms throughout her career. She hones in on the pressing PR concerns of today’s client looking for an agency partnership: finding the right firm and strategy to tell your story and drive the perception of the overall business.

Her knowledge and experience denotes criteria to consider when identifying and prospectively hiring a PR agency might include the following:

  • They are the right size for where you are today as an organization
  • The firm knows your industry and are deeply passionate about it
  • They have the ability to secure specific types of press
  • The firm’s locality is right (city, state, country, time zone)
  • The firm’s overall temperament and team personalities are a fit (this cannot be emphasized enough)
  • You both know what success looks like first (this goes back to reverse engineering)
  • Once you narrow your decision, client and media references support your decision
  • You are willing and able to collaborate with your PR team to establish metrics for success

An established and emerging mix of global clients on roster for 15 years allows us to offer the above insights from both the agency and client perspective. The art, or real “magic,” of the collaboration emerges when the relationship is healthy. Getting results is the easy part, the people management that happens in between is where the communication skills and educational value-add, truly reside.

Courtney-profileCourtney Lukitsch is the principal and founder of Gotham PR, which was founded in 2002 and is a boutique Marketing PR firm based in New York and London, with a roster of high profile clients in 25 global markets. You can find Courtney on LinkedIn or Twitter.