PR Agency Search: Experience and Value Trump Hourly Rates

26 06 2012

It’s no secret that companies are looking to get maximum value from their PR firms. And in that quest for value, when selecting PR firms, some companies give heavy weight in the evaluation process to hourly rates.

This can be a mistake, because hourly rates do not equate to actual value.

Years ago, I was a corporate PR manager. While my company had a PR agency of record, I hired a smaller firm with a higher hourly rate for a special project. And it turned out to be a great value. Why? Because the smaller firm was able to accomplish in one hour what the agency of record couldn’t accomplish in two weeks of solid work.

The difference between the two efforts – other than thousands of dollars in potential cost – was experience.

Many clients have learned the hard way that the agency with the lower hourly rate can actually be the more costly agency – because it takes them longer to get the job done … if they can get the job done at all.

The principal of that smaller PR firm I mentioned earlier told me a story about the great scientist, Charles Steinmetz. An electrical genius with more than 200 patents to his name, Steinmetz worked for General Electric for a number of years and retired in the early 1900s.

It was said that, after his retirement, GE started having a problem with a complex electrical system Dr. Steinmetz had developed. After spending thousands of dollars and hiring several consultants, it seemed no one could fix it. So, at his wit’s end, the GE plant manager called the professor to see if he could help. He told Steinmetz he would pay whatever consulting fee Steinmetz felt was fair.

So Steinmetz traveled to the GE facility, met the plant manager and studied the machinery for a few minutes. He then climbed up on the machine and marked the malfunctioning part with a piece of chalk and told the GE manager how to fix it.

After thanking Steinmetz profusely for his amazing speed in solving their problem  the manager gratefully ushered Steinmetz back on his way home, and had his men begin the repair.

When Steinmetz’s bill arrived a few days later, the manager was shocked. He called Steinmetz and said:”Dr. Steinmetz, I have received your invoice. How can you justify billing us $10,000 when you only spent a few minutes in the plant?”

Steinmetz said: “I charged you one dollar for marking the broken part, and $9,999 for knowing where to place the mark.”

So, while the hourly rate was high, the total cost was a bargain.

GE was not really paying $10,000 for just a few minutes of the genius’ time; they were paying for the decades of experience and the unique knowledge that enabled Steinmetz to identify their problem in just a few minutes. They paid for the experience that got the desired results.

Whether or not the story is true, it makes an important point: When you’re looking at PR agencies, don’t just focus on hourly rates or creative answers to questions. Look at the agencies’:

  • Experience in your market;
  • Knowledge of the trends, issues and players in your industry;
  • Time invested in keeping up with your market;
  • Relationships built with the media and organizations in your sector; and
  • Results generated for companies that are similar to yours.

Most importantly, look at the actual people at the PR firm who will be applying their insight, knowledge and experience on your behalf.

Your best value will be a Steinmetz … the firm with the experience and knowledge to get the job done quickly and efficiently.

And that’s true genius!

Seven Ways a Client Can Make Its PR Firm Great

19 06 2012

Having worked both sides of the street – first as a corporate PR manager, then as an agency VP and later an agency principal – I was always amazed when I saw a mediocre firm doing great work, and even more surprised when I witnessed a great firm doing mediocre work.

In most cases, it wasn’t the firm’s size, its people or its experience that made the difference. It was the firm’s attitude.

Most PR firms have solid processes and skills. They have competent people who want to succeed and want to deliver for the client. (Disclosure: I am blessed with a great team – one which a key auto industry publication editor tells me time and again “… is the best in the business.”)

With PR firms, as with many other things in our lives, it’s attitude that makes all the difference.  And with PR agencies, that attitude stems largely from the relationship the firm has with its client.

I’ve come to realize a simple truth: A PR firm can only be as good as its client allows it to be. If you want your PR agency to do great work for you, be a great client.

In talking with some client-side executives and drawing from my own experience, here are seven things you can do to be a great client:

1.     Bring the agency in early. The earlier you bring your PR partners into the process, the more value they can add … and the more they’ll feel ownership in your program. If you treat them like a strategic partner and involve them in the strategy development, they’ll be more effective than if they are treated as merely a vendor implementing tactics.

 2.     Give great direction. The best clients are those that effectively share their goals, objectives, preferences and taboos. Explain what you’re trying to do, what you want and even what you don’t want. More time spent giving good direction upfront means less time and budget wasted, less frustration downstream … and greater chance of success.

3.     Create realistic expectations. The best client-agency relationships are built on trust, candor and honesty. Give the agency enough information so it can provide you with its thoughts about realistic budgets, results, measurements and timing. Get agreement upfront on what is fair in each of these areas.

4.     Hear the agency’s advice. Listen carefully to the agency. Listen to understand first, and then listen to respond second. Be open to their ideas. You hired the firm for a reason – its experience, expertise, insights and outside perspective. And if, after careful consideration, you decide not to follow the firm’s advice, explain why.

 5.     Value the agency’s time. Don’t waste the agency’s time, even if you’re paying for it. Repeatedly sending your agency team off on wild goose chases and dead-end projects will only serve to demoralize them over the long term. No one wants to see their best ideas or their hardest work kicked to the curb time and time again.

6.     Pay on time. Make sure your accounts payable department is paying the agency’s bills on a timely basis. There’s nothing more frustrating – and wasteful – than for the agency to have to spend extra time and effort chasing the client for months to get paid. Everything else being equal, which client do you think an agency is going to gladly stay late or go the extra mile for – the one who pays on-time or the one that is always late?  

 7.     Employ the Golden Rule. Your Mom was right. Treat your agency team the way you want to be treated, with respect, honesty, consideration, appreciation and loyalty. Treat them to a compliment, give them recognition and surprise them with an award. If the members of your account team feel that you really appreciate, respect and support them, they will be willing to go above and beyond to help you.

In the end, public relations is a relationship business. Nothing – not even budget – affects the success of your PR agency’s efforts more than the relationship you create and maintain with your firm.

Let’s make it a great one!


Part 6: Social Media Consistency Targets and Measurement for the Business Professional

12 06 2012

(Post by Jessica Killenberg Muzik, APR,  VP – Account Services)

At this point in our six-part series, you may be wondering how much time you should dedicate to your social media efforts?

Well, it varies for every professional, but we typically recommend a total time commitment of two to three hours per week – which could include one hour of outreach on LinkedIn (via posing questions, answering questions, starting conversations, etc.), one tweet or re-tweet per day and three posts on Facebook per week.

However, keep in mind that these are general recommendations, no need to force a post if the content just isn’t there.

If measurement is important to you and your organization (as it is to most), here are a few thoughts on that topic.

  • Define specific goals at the onset so you know what you’re working to achieve;
  • Define how you will measure those goals – tone of feedback, issues being discussed, message tone, etc. – and what constitutes “success” for you and your company;
  • Monitor and measure visitor statistics via your website,, Facebook’s View Insights, etc.;
  • Analyze and compare data at set intervals and tweak your posts as necessary; and
  • Incentivize people to learn how they found out about you and your organization.

Some final thoughts on this series: Your social media efforts are only as good as the contacts, followers, and friends you reach, so take the initiative to invite folks into your social media circle and follow those you want to follow you and your organization.

In order to maintain your level of contacts, have fun with it and don’t be afraid to show a little personality. Above all else: BE CONSISTENT!

I think social media guru Peter Shankman said it best in a Facebook post I once read: “Every time you tweet, post or blog, you’re producing content. Content is your legacy. Make it good.”

So, get out there and make some professional social media magic happen for you and your business … start the dialogue, engage the audience, build relationships and provide helpful, informative and appealing content. And let us know how it’s working for you!

Part 5: Creating Social Media Content and Process for the Business Professional

5 06 2012

(Post by Jessica Killenberg Muzik, APR, Vice President – Account Services)

So you’ve created your professional social media accounts … now what?

Continuously creating content is one of the biggest challenges in successfully implementing social media tactics for the business world. In the final two parts of this six-part series, we’ll share some thoughts on content, what to promote, the process, consistency targets and social media measurement.

In order to create content, here is a list of questions you can look to as a guide to help you:

  • What kinds of topics or content would motivate customers / potential customers to engage in a conversation or get in touch with you?
  • What kinds of problems or issues are they tackling? Can you or your company offer tips or advice?
  • What articles, blogs or videos have you seen that might be newsworthy or helpful to share?
  • Are there any issues or topics that you would like other’s people input or insight about?

Mix those general topics and helpful information with content about your company, but be careful not to make it all about you. When promoting yourself and your company via social media, here are some suggestions on what you might want to consider posting, intermittently:

  • News releases / event announcements;
  • Videos / photos (as we often say to our clients “everyone ‘reads’ pictures”);
  • Community involvement stories or photos;
  • Positive media coverage about your company or your industry;
  • Start a discussion on industry trends and issues; and
  • Ask questions / solicit feedback / conduct a poll or survey. (One of our most popular posts is based on an annual survey of identifying the most-hated business buzzwords for communicators and marketers.)

To be consistent with your social media efforts, we recommend establishing a process that you’ll follow time and time again. First, when linking to another source (website, article news release, etc.) shorten the link’s URL by using one of the many URL shortening sites. We like, as it offers real-time link tracking to measure your social media efforts. Then develop your actual post to accompany the link, writing something that’ll grab attention. And we recommend drafting the post in Word first, so you can do a spell check.

Now you’re ready to post the content to your social media pages. And, yes, post it to all of them. Although it may seem a bit redundant, your various contacts, followers, friends and fans have different preferences for the social media they use — some turn to Twitter, some follow Facebook, and others  like LinkedIn. By hitting all your outlets, even though you may customize the posta bit  to fit the unique qualities of each platform, you can ensure that your content isn’t missed.

  • For LinkedIn, we recommend posting to your personal account first, then to your company’s business page and finally to all appropriate groups you belong to.
  • For Twitter, remember to make sure your Tweet comes at 130 or fewer characters, so it can be easily re-tweeted by others and still meet the 140-character limit. Use a shortened URL to save space, and consider using a hashtag for increased searchability.
  • For Facebook, again use a catchy headline and shortened URL, as well as pictures and video.

Now, the big question is: as a professional, how much time should you dedicate to social media?

We’ll cover that in our final part of this series, as well as measurement and some closing thoughts on social media for business.


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