As much as they are anything else, public relations firms play an important role for their clients as a source of trusted counsel. It is not uncommon, however, for both clients and agencies to lose sight of this in the course of the day-to-day activities involved in an engagement or campaign.
As a client, when the relationship with your public relations firm begins to feel too similar to the one you may have with a vendor of some kind, it’s time to take a critical look at the partnership. The reason is simple – because you should beware of order-takers.
- Public relations counsel is like the close friend that tells you the truth, rather than what you want to hear. You want your public relations agency to be like the friend who tells you’re your outfit looks ridiculous. An agency that simply aims to please or take orders is tantamount to a C-suite full of yes-men or yes-women just trying not to rock the boat. Truth be told, sometimes the boat needs to be rocked a bit. Beware the firm that never tells a client “no.”
- When you hire a firm for its expertise, you’re only cheating yourself if you aren’t engaging in a two-way dialogue. A firm that’s supposed to provide counsel should do just that, even if the eventual determination is to pursue another direction or path. If you went to the doctor, you’d listen to his or her expertise and then make a decision based on the courses of treatment suggested. Although decisions related to medical treatment aren’t analogous, the concept applies in this scenario as well. If you wouldn’t want a doctor who waits for you to instruct them on how to treat an injury, then chances are you don’t want an agency that waits for you to instruct them on how to handle your company’s reputation and communication. Beware the firm that doesn’t have strong recommendations.
- Agencies can and should bring a “cauldron of experience” to drive strategic counsel for clients. It’s generally accepted that an outside firm brings a perspective that is separate and unique from people within an organization who have biased views– for better or for worse – by any number of factors and are therefore prone to biased assessments. An agency’s knowledge and perspective, as well as any subsequent guidance and strategic counsel, can and should be driven by what they know about a given client. However, it should be considered in the context of experience with similar clients, related organizations and industries, broad insight into organizational communication, public perception, media trends and tendencies, among a whole pantry of other “ingredients” that get stirred into the “cauldron.” If your public relations counsel is simply serving as an order-taker, then chances are you aren’t benefiting from that firm’s “cauldron of experience.” Beware the firm that lacks dynamic insight.