In any relationship, it’s important to know when to walk away. The partnership with your public relations firm is no different.
PR is a significant investment for any company, and it should yield a solid ROI. If you aren’t seeing promising results in a three to six month time frame, it may be time to part ways with your PR firm. The problem is knowing how to differentiate between the typical challenges of garnering publicity and a PR group that’s not able to deliver on their promises.
How do you know when to end the relationship? Here are seven signs you should walk away.
7 Public Relations Red Flags
1. Lack of accountability
PR consulting work doesn’t end after sending a pitch. Clients should expect their firm to provide feedback on the status of pitches, how reporters are responding, and other updates a week to ten days after the pitch goes out.
Your PR consultant should have a plan for one of two outcomes: the pitch getting picked up or failing to gain traction. The buck stops with them, and they should act accordingly.
2. Limited or no results
Media coverage tends to start slowly and build over time. PR professionals typically need to establish relationships with your company and the reporters in your area before they can earn you a big PR win. Still, you should expect to see some results early on.
If your PR firm tells you not to expect any results for the first six months, that’s a huge red flag and the sign of a PR professional who is simply dialing it in or may not have the skills to get you to the finish line.
3. Bait and switch
A foundation of trust must be established in any PR engagement. Some PR firms use senior representation to win the pitch and then pass off the account to entry-level employees, leaving the client understandably frustrated.
This practice is bad business—especially if those employees aren’t adequately managed or trained. It’s one thing to bring on young people who are eager to learn. But giving inexperienced employees accounts without proper guidance is a recipe for disaster.
4. Infrequent communication
Your PR firm should report to you a few times per month (either by phone, Zoom or in person) about the status of the work they’re doing and results achieved. Although much of their work will be behind the scenes and won’t involve the client directly, regular communication is important to ensure the client stays in the loop.
Failing to stay in touch is a sign that they aren’t generating publicity and that they lack new ideas. It also robs you of the opportunity to share updates about what’s happening inside your organization. That new information could spark an idea that garners more publicity than the original pitch, so keep those ideas coming!
5. Lack of agility
Coming up with different ideas and pivoting as needed is par for the course in public relations. No PR effort is over after one pitch cycle, and sometimes despite your best efforts, a particular pitch doesn’t gain traction. That doesn’t mean to stop trying! My sixth grade gym teacher Ms. Decas was known for encouraging us with her famous phrase, “Don’t panic…adjust!”
If a PR consultant tells you that one idea didn’t resonate and they don’t have a recommendation for an alternate approach, run away as fast as you can!
6. Poor representation
Appearances are important in PR, and the firm representing your brand should be an extension of your company. The interactions they have with reporters and other contacts on your behalf directly reflect your brand.
Everyone makes occasional mistakes, but you have reason to be concerned if your PR consultant is prone to excessive typos, providing incorrect information, or dropping the ball on updates or responding to reporter requests.
7. Mismatched expectations
Your PR firm should be honest about how public relations works and what you can expect from an engagement. Overpromising and under delivering (one of the more common complaints I’ve heard from clients who hired me after having an unsatisfying PR experience) will leave everyone frustrated. f.
It’s important to note that PR engagements are partnerships, and clients must also put in the necessary effort to succeed. If a PR firm lets you believe that you can sit back while they bring in coverage from the New York Times, or another top-tier outlet, they’re doing you a disservice.
Next Steps: Have an Honest Conversation with Your PR Consultant
The moment you begin to have concerns, have an honest, objective conversation with your PR consultant.
Start by acknowledging that there are obstacles. Speak plainly about what you’re observing and why you’re concerned. Ask your firm: Why has it been so hard to get coverage? Are you doing any follow-up? Has anyone responded to the pitch? If so, what was the feedback? Is there anything you need from us so that we can be more successful?
In talking through your concerns, you may find that your organization is inadvertently stymieing the process. Listen to your PR consultant’s perspective. There’s a chance you can salvage the relationship through candid dialogue. If you decide to continue working together, consider drafting a document outlining clear expectations and benchmarks for the future—and have both parties sign it before you continue.
If it becomes clear that the relationship isn’t going to work, walk away gracefully, and don’t give up hope on PR altogether. Another firm with a different style and approach may be the perfect fit for your brand.
Want to see if Goodwin Consulting is the right fit for you? Contact me today to discuss your PR goals, and we’ll take it from there!