Client says jump; agency not only asks “how high?” but also “out of which window?”

This, taken out of an anonymous blog post from a publicist that has left her job and indefinitely quit the PR industry.  It's clear from the writer's entire post that she is done.  And what's more, she's done the right thing by jumping ship before it gets worse.  

It's old, but you can read her entire post, here.

Most of us, and I'm referring to PR professionals working more or less in Media Relations, work exceptionally hard for their clients.  You need an incredibly thick skin, because in the course of a day you can be yelled at by your client, verbally abused by journalists or be the recipient of horrible emails, enter panic mode when the absolutely non-newsworthy story on your to do list is just that and doesn't fit anywhere and for good measure, add the uncomfortable scenario of having to tell a cross client that you can't cover up their terrible behaviour and they'd be better off coming clean.

I'd like to think publicists in general, would bend over backwards to deliver as best a service with fantastic results as they can.  I'd like to think that we work ethically and honestly while still doing our very best for the profile of our customers.

However, a subscriber poll in the NBR recently, suggested that 62% of those surveyed, thought very little of PR people, that we're nothing more than overpaid, lying, sneaky spin-doctors.  Bit of an eye-opener really, if we all think we are doing a great job for our clients and that our industry is one to be proud of, yet more than half of a surveyed group think we're all full of it.  

So what needs to happen?  A campaign for our industry that shows what we actually do vs the perception?  Making it a mandatory requirement to join a professional body, that adheres to a set of values, proving that we're all in this job for the right reasons?  What will it take, for those 62% to change their perception of us?  

I can see why some of them might be bitter.  If they had engaged an agency to wave a magical change wand over their reputations, businesses, personal interests and found they weren't successful and paid a tonne of cash believing that everything in their lives would be fixed with the help of a team of publicists and found they were no better off?  It only takes one of those instances to form a strong, negative opinion and a well-oiled word of mouth vehicle to change perception - even of those not directly affected!

Media Relations is hard.  Essentially you are delivering a service based on skill, experience and relationships that has zero guarantees of success.  We can only advise and proceed with a line of work that is likely to have a good result.  A good result with no guarantees.  We aren't journalists or reporters. We certainly aren't in control of the channels we use to help tell stories of businesses and individuals.  So when you engage with an agency, it has to be made crystal clear that a whole lot of factors could adversely affect an outcome.

Having had a recent experience with a former client not understanding exactly how uninteresting her business story was, it's certainly given me the wobbles that people don't really understand what PR, namely Media Relations, actually is.  When they contact me with a story of woe or excitement, asking me if I can help them.  My answer is nearly always yes, because I probably can help them, but, if they believe that the front page of the Dom or a prime spot on One news is what they understand "help" to be, in most cases, they're sorely mistaken.

So, while it's been a bit raw to see 62% of those surveyed thinking we're awful people, it's kicked me into gear to offer a far more transparent process around PR engagements.  A more detailed letter of engagement to start with and hopefully some education around exactly what I do and how I can help in a positive way.

2 Comments