January 2, 2024 0 Comments

The Problem with Most PR Agencies and How to Fix Them

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Many public relations (PR) practitioners enter the field with high expectations. When they finally begin to progress in their careers, however, many are met with a pervasive acceptance of toxic and inefficient workplace practices. It’s an environment that stifles creativity and promotes a cutthroat mentality. Even the most skilled, talented and passionate publicists, disillusioned by the culture of the industry, can be left asking “Is this the best we have to offer?” — or even worse, “Should I leave the profession?” 

That’s the reality that inspired our CEO and Founder, April White, to find a better way. Disheartened by the conventional approach to account staffing, promotions and workplace interactions, she decided to pave the way for change by establishing Trust Relations. But one agency isn’t enough. 

To change the industry norms that drive great practitioners out and yield poor stewardship of clients’ funds, we as PR professionals must pull back the curtain and demand better — and then see it through with action.

So, what exactly is wrong with the traditional agency? And how can we change this industry into something more efficient, more adaptable — and more kind? In this blog post, we’ll get the ball rolling. 

From Dumping Grounds to Supportive Spaces: A Cultural Revolution in PR

One of the most prevalent issues in traditional PR agencies is a toxic culture that encourages career-minded individuals to push other people down on their way to the top. Cutthroat tactics and taking credit for others’ work are often rewarded, while mentorship takes a backseat. 

Further, as many agencies seek to cut costs and expand, junior staff are often promoted to management quickly – without the skills and training required to succeed there. This approach can encourage a culture in which management dumps tasks on subordinates, rather than delegating responsibilities. Without the experience and mentorship to be effective, these managers never learn how to be mentors themselves, and the cycle continues. The result is career dissatisfaction and over-promotion on the inside, and lackluster results for the client. 

To resolve this, agencies must prioritize a supportive and inclusive culture. At Trust Relations, we pride ourselves on what we call a “considerate culture.” By taking the time to invest in junior team members’ learning and development (with dedicated managers, learning and development stipends, kind and thorough feedback, “reach” projects, and so on) the best PR agencies can discover each team member’s unique ways of working. This, in turn, unlocks their individual talents and allows the agency to build a kick-a** senior team from the ground up. 

As agency leaders, we must consider our new hires, freelance staff and senior specialists alike to be “part of the band.” Welcome them in. Invest in their learning. Get to know them. Celebrate their workplace milestones and their personal accomplishments. Trust us when we say: The result will be less resentment, more teamsmanship, reduced turnover, and healthier account frameworks to support better client results.

Rethinking PR Overheads and Improving Client Success

Traditional PR agencies often need help with transparency in billing and retainers. A frequent question from PR clients at every retainer level and in every industry is, “For what, exactly, am I paying?”

This is because, under the traditional structure, a client’s agency experience might look something like this: One company is charged a retainer of $12k per month for PR services at Agency X, while another is charged $20k per month at the same firm. At the end of a six-month PR program, both clients have heard little from their agency teams in terms of what the pitching projects and priorities have been, and there isn’t a clear distinction between the two clients’ media relations outcomes. In short, the price is often not commensurate with the budget. 

Additionally, industry price tags have skewed higher than what is appropriate for the services provided. The costly overhead of a fancy office space in San Francisco or Manhattan might look glamorous, but it does not materially impact the media relations outcomes an agency can achieve. In fact, it drives hourly rates up and forces employees to stay tethered to a location which might not suit their needs for a balanced, happy and healthy mental state. 

The world in 2023 is digitally connected. Agencies no longer need to operate in a room together, where one account executive can ferry paper copies of a press release between desks and fax machines. To shed the costs of the old model, it’s going to take a multi-faceted approach. Remote work isn’t going anywhere — and it eliminates the costs associated with extravagant office spaces, thereby reducing overhead costs. (At Trust Relations, we’ve been doing it that way since before the pandemic made #WFH cool — and we can’t imagine our team without the global expertise of our highly specialized staff.) 

Agencies must embrace more economically bulletproof models, outside of the norm, to find the combination that works best for them. If you do the math: 

No office overhead + hybrid employees + full-time staff + the best expertise = competitive pricing

By ensuring that clients pay for results rather than unnecessary expenses, agencies can help the brands they represent to understand what they are paying for and can upgrade for additional services when the time is right. At Trust Relations, we do this with a gamified pricing structure. In essence, our proprietary Point System assigns points to specific PR activities and allows customers to choose a package that aligns with their budget and strategic goals. You can learn more about our gamified budget philosophy here. 

Inclusivity Crafts Narratives for all Audiences

Diversity is another area where conventional PR agencies often fall short. If everyone working at a company is forced to fit a particular mold to fit in, it severely limits the differing perspectives that are vital in helping brands speak to a diverse consumer base. 

By having a team with diverse backgrounds and perspectives — from location, to career experience,  to racial identity, to gender identity, to socioeconomic background, to life experiences, passions and interests — agencies can better serve clients and their target audiences. It’s crucial for authentic brand representation that an agency has a team of people who can lend their unique perspectives, experiences and expertise to see every side of a problem and different story angles to pitch the media. This is how the agency of the future will address clients’ needs with solutions that reflect what their unique audiences need to hear.

Our agency includes fitness models, fashion experts, crypto enthusiasts, artists, dancers, marathon runners, animal advocates, and on and on. Agencies can and should celebrate those differences — and watch as their teams become more creative, satisfied and effective.

The Biggest Piece of Advice for Brands Seeking PR Services

Our advice for better practice of PR is straightforward: “You must do what you say before you can say what you do.” It’s our golden rule, and the core of our commitment to authenticity. It’s far too common for PR practitioners to feel pressured by their agency leaders to bend the truth on a client’s behalf. And while we must always advocate for our clients, we must also empower them to achieve the goals that drive their brands forward. The best PR agencies know when to tell the story, and when to advise a brand on how to write that story more authentically before the telling begins. 

By aligning actions with messaging, brands can build trust, credibility, and a lasting connection with their audiences. And that is the true payoff of effective PR. 

As brands continue to navigate the complex landscape of reputation management, it’s time to transform the industry norms. By fostering a positive culture, embracing inclusivity, and synergizing media relations with branding and digital marketing, we can set a new standard for the future of PR. 

If that sounds better than the way your last agency approached your brand, we are happy to walk you through our unique approach to PR any time. Reach out to us here.

 

AUTHOR

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Trust Relations Team