A former work associate of mine called recently and told me about a PR firm that offered to do his business’ advertising creative. It turned out to be ineffective work because, in the end, it didn’t address his marketing objectives, nor did it communicate to his target audiences. He was surprised because this firm did such a bang-up job at PR. His disappointment led to a complete dissolution of his company’s relationship with the PR firm.
Why failure? In this case, the PR firm did not recognize its limitations. It, therefore, did not recognize the opportunity to come through for their client by bringing in qualified, experienced creative professionals. The assumption that a person who can write a press release means that they can also develop innovative concepts or even write compelling ad copy is a bold one and, more often than not, a mistaken one.
I relayed this story to a friend who has been a successful freelance copywriter for more than 35 years. She rolled her eyes and said, “Been there. Done that.” She has worked with consultants who insisted on acting as “account executives” but who lacked advertising and marketing expertise. Still, they would not bring her into the room to meet with their clients. As a result, they couldn’t help their clients determine their objectives and were therefore unable to communicate those objectives to the creative team.
The Invaluable, Talented Creative
As a successful creative professional, my friend possesses a great deal of marketing savvy, or else she would not have been able to do successful work for so many clients over so many years. “My work is only as good as the input I receive,” she told me, adding that she can spend an hour with a client and usually glean more than she needs to know because she knows what questions to ask. She opined that the consultants with whom she worked, in some instances, were well aware that they were not needed in the creative process, and feared that their clients would realize the same thing if they were to meet the creative team face-to-face. So they tried to fake their way through client meetings alone and then expected the creatives to perform miracles with inadequate input.
Risking your reputation and your client relationship for the sake of making a mark-up is short-sighted. Imagine if his PR firm had told my former work associate that the work he needed was out of their depth. He would have found someone else to do the job and would have respected the firm’s honesty. If the PR firm had told him they couldn’t do the work but referred him to a top-notch creative who could, they would have been heroes and shown their commitment to helping their client succeed. In doing so, they would have retained the account.
If You Pay Attention, You Learn Something Every Day
So often in my previous work life, I was thankful to be guided by other professionals’ experiences. I learned something in virtually every conversation related to smartly conducting business. Of lessons learned, some of the most important are: 1) How to recognize talent; 2) How to recognize an organization’s needs; and 3) When to get out of the middle to let talent and organizations make magic together.
There are truly remarkable, highly talented PR firms out there. They’re top shelf in every respect. The principals of these firms and their top administrators don’t misrepresent their reach, their in-house talent, or the clout they will bring to your team. If you’re in the market for PR, do your homework at the outset before signing on — especially with smaller firms. Ask the tough questions. A firm that delivered supernatural performances for one business may not offer the in-house talent that your business needs. Ask them who on their team delivers the goods you need. Be smart — meet them!
Don’t let consultants misrepresent themselves. Those who do are the ones who give the good ones a bad name. The bottom line is that some projects are out of a firm’s comfort zones. The unprincipled ones will be very hesitant to declare that with consulting ducats on the line. The rock-solid ones are generally quick to size up your wishes and requirements and point you in another direction if someone amongst their stable of professional connections can better serve you.