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Firing your PR firm: When to cut the anchor loose

By Wendy Bulawa Agudelo

38227896_sAt the onset of the dot-com and Internet boom, public relations firms were in high demand.  Every venture-backed startup required a boost to rapidly increase mindshare of its latest gadget, application or service. Although the landscape changed slightly with the introduction of social media, public relations remains a valuable tool in every business’ toolbox. The strength of the relationship between agency and client is paramount. Without faith, trust and respect, the relationship is doomed to fail. But PR professionals aren’t simply along for the ride to deliver media coverage; they are advisors, counselors, strategists and networkers, too.

But what happens when you review the statistics and measurement reports and determine (for any number of reasons) you need to cut ties with your PR agency? Before rushing to end things, we urge you to consider the following:

1. Patience is a virtue. Too often, business owners expect that once they hire a PR firm, they will immediately see themselves on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Being interviewed by the press, seeing your name or that of your business in print or finding something you’ve done trending on Twitter can all be intoxicating. Suddenly, people know more about you.

In fact, realistically, it takes approximately 90–180 days for any PR program to gain full traction. To properly roll out any initiative, you need to define and set your strategy and timelines and set your staff on task with measurable goals in mind. Without a plan and time to execute it, there is little to measure. Measurement is the true basis of PR success. It’s your right to make a change if you don’t see results. If in six months your firm cannot prove its value, you then have a basis for firing.

2. Be sure you’re using your tools correctly. PR is a tool which, if used properly, can become the foundation of highly impressive awareness campaigns, product launches, mindshare shifts and sales success. But when used incorrectly, the results are sour grapes, breached contracts and negative opinions. If your relationship is new, it’s important to ask a lot of questions to determine how to best leverage your PR firm. What can it do for you; what should your expectations be; how much time will your team need from you; how often will they report on or measure results? Business owners should feel confident in their ability to hold their chosen PR firm accountable and to leverage firm expertise as frequently as possible.

If your business is amid planning a product launch, involve the PR team for not just press outreach and social media activity, but the creative, graphics, tag line, brand development and event support. PR firms are so much more than media and analyst liaisons. The most successful businesses treat their PR teams as executives and depend on them to provide overarching communications strategies and appropriate tactics. Really take into consideration the powerhouse you’ve added to your team and maximize it.

3. Avoid being passive-aggressive. The best thing to do if you feel your public relations program is not moving in the right direction is simply to share your concerns as soon as they surface. Remember that the relationship between business and agency is just that: a relationship. A PR firm’s work can only be as strong as the relationship it has with its client. If you are responsive and supportive, provide necessary information and make yourself available when needed, your firm should be executing well.

If it’s not, consider arranging an in-person meeting to discuss areas you find are lacking. A good PR partner will not only listen to your concerns, but will also provide rationale, additional creative and may even suggest a timeline after which to regroup and review program components together once again. Once you’ve shared your dissatisfaction, it is both fair and professional to give your hired agency the opportunity to meet (or exceed) your expectations. If after that point you still aren’t satisfied, or if the firm hasn’t met its own set-forth objectives, you’re cleared to let the hammer fall.

To learn more about how to figure out when it’s really time to fire your PR firm, download Axia Public Relations’ e-book How to Fire Your PR Firm for key tips and points to consider. Then call us up for a sitdown and a chat about how we can help you get your business the recognition you envision for it.

Wendy Bulawa Agudelo has more than 15 years of experience in technology, business, consumer and non-profit public relations. In addition to serving on the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress PR Task Force, Wendy enjoys cooking and rooting for her favorite New England sports teams.

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Topics: public relations

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