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Great PR is about kicking butt, not kissing it


I’ll let you in on a little secret. When it comes to securing the right kind of PR opportunity for your business, you need to be brave enough to hear the word ‘no’ from your PR agent – sometimes on a regular basis.

It’s not because PR agents are particularly contrary. And it’s certainly not because we enjoy saying no. It’s because any PR professional who has earned their stripes knows there’s nothing to gain from pursuing an idea in PR if the campaign is shaky.

That’s why a decent PR agent can and will put the kybosh on some of your ideas. While that may not feel so great at the time, it’s not personal and it’s actually what you should be paying them to do.

The PR agent that cares more about pleasing you as opposed to pleasing your audience is the wrong PR agent to have.

Putting the PR in professional

One misconception about PR is that the PR agent must always do what a client wants. This would be like asking a doctor to prescribe you unproven medicine that you have seen on Google.

Like any professional relationship, a business owner must realise that the PR practitioner is an expert in the field and defer to professional opinion. The bottom line is you are paying them to do the best job they can, which is not necessarily doing what you want them to do.

This does not mean you have no involvement, but you do need to realise that a PR agency must follow a professional code of conduct and best practice based on their experience. If you’re asking the agent to do something that goes against that, a good PR agent will refuse on these grounds.

Protecting their ability to continue as a respected professional is part of the equation. Protecting you as a client from some of the negative ramifications that can be associated with working outside the code of conduct is another.

This tough love will see you and your chosen agent avoid the kind of PR neither of you want.

Access to media relies on good relationships

When a client wants to overlook the best way to engage media, or behaves unethically, a good PR agent will say, “No way, Jose,” and refuse to represent them. This is because it’s never in anyone’s interest to pursue a PR activity that will only serve to damage networks and relationships.

For example, if a client insists on announcing news to top-tier media that was not newsworthy or accurate, a PR professional would decline as it would hurt the client’s reputation, waste the media’s time (and the client’s and agent’s, which they pay for), and hurt the agent’s reputation.

Burning PR bridges is not a risk any intelligent business or professional PR agent would take.

A PR agent’s good reputation with media is crucial for them to achieve great results for all of their present and future clients. It is something that separates the average (or money hungry) PR professionals from the outstanding ones.

Here’s a tip: When considering bringing on a PR agency for your business, you should be able to get feedback from media on what they are like to work with. A PR agent that doesn’t give tough love to their clients will get a negative or mixed response from journalists.

Not all publicity is good publicity

A good PR agent will not get involved in a campaign unless they understand the facts and know them to be true. There is certainly an art to finding the right angle to earn coverage for a client, but a professional PR agent will not lie for you.

We’re in a particularly information savvy age where trust is even more important than ever, and customers can easily uncover deception or discover missing information about claims.

No self-respecting PR agent will risk representing a client that tries to hoodwink the public. That kind of publicity generating activity—hype at all costs—does not work for anyone.

Pushing for a false claim in a PR campaign may get you fired by your PR agent. And it can get you fined should your claim breach fair trading laws. So always remember, with PR, honesty is definitely the best policy.

The final word on tough love PR

You will certainly find PR firms that operate on the ‘client knows best’ principle all or most of the time, but this indicates a lack of respect for the profession.

It’s common in very green PR consultants who haven’t worked out the value of the network yet, and some bigger agencies that are simply hungry for a sale.

And it’s not the kind of PR you want for your business.

A good, seasoned PR agent will only send media outlets newsworthy and original information, and deal with them in an ethical and understanding way. This is the basis for having an excellent reputation with media, a critical part of successful media campaigns.

Ultimately, as a client, you will benefit from having your business represented by a PR firm that has an excellent reputation with media who will work to preserve their own reputation as they enhance yours.

Be wary of PR agents willing to engage in anything that comprises their reputation—they may not have a good one to lose!

Phoebe Netto is the Managing Director of Good Business Consulting, a boutique agency specialising in public relations, marketing and business advice for small and medium sized business. She brings big business experience to small businesses that think big.