Public Relations is an industry that has long received mixed-sentiments from both media and the wider community. Some clients approach their PR journey with great trepidation, scarred by camp fire tales of horror PR teams who have wreaked more damage on a brand’s reputation than puppy in a pillow cupboard. Media on the other hand can turn a cold shoulder to new names in PR based on past experiences with unprofessional agencies who have inadvertently ticked every box on the black list survey.
That being said, Bill Gates himself declared he would spend his last dollar on PR, and countless companies the world over have benefited immensely from the expertise of accomplished agencies who know how to skillfully manage every element of the business, from strategic media relations and high level stakeholder engagement, to seamlessly managing a black tie ball or gritty guerilla stunt. So if you have just begun, or are considering embarking upon the exciting ride that is PR, we’ve compiled a list of eight key features to look for in your PR team which separate the good, from the great.
- They listen to you
A great PR team wants to understand your business goals and objectives, and create tailored plan that seeks to achieve specific outcomes, as opposed to thrusting a cookie cutter approach upon you. For instance, “food and beverage” PR may well revolve around food and beverage, but what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for all. Is there any point in hitting Gen Y street press or running social media competitions geared towards young men, if the target is attracting high-socio economic ladies who lunch? Make sure your PR team is listening to your needs.
- They respond to your emails and phone calls promptly
There is nothing more disappointing than engaging a team who dazzle you in the pitch with all the excitement and energy of Christmas Day, and once the contact begins, you struggle to receive their email responses within 24 hours. As a client, your PR team should act as a virtual extension of your business and be readily available to acknowledge your concerns, queries or ideas throughout the day. It’s no secret most agencies are juggling a large number of clients at any one time, which of course means you aren’t their only priority, but a great PR team will make you feel as though you are. That being said, having unreasonable expectations of your PR team, such as reading your emails within two minutes of receiving them, or being available to answer an incessant stream of non-urgent phone calls each day, won’t always work in your favour.
- They proactively come to you with ideas and solutions
You don’t go to a doctor expecting to put forward all the possible medical reasons for your own symptoms. You’ve reached out to an industry professional because you need and trust their expertise to diagnose you correctly. The same goes for PR. If you’re facing a communications conundrum within your own business, your PR team should be adept with assessing the unique landscape of your industry and current business situation to find the best solution for you. You also shouldn’t be the one needing to cough up all the creative PR ideas if you’ve paid an agency to take the reins. Of course, PR professionals love and value receiving input from their clients, but don’t allow them to become too comfortable with never needing to put on their thinking caps and bring the ideas to you.
- They are professional on email
A telltale sign that your PR team mightn’t be representing you in the most professional manner possible is the state of the emails they send you and any related stakeholders. Sure, internal email correspondence between colleagues has a tendency to become relaxed and lacking in structural formalities, but as the client, the emails you receive from your PR team should always be grammatically correct, polite and properly punctuated. If they don’t communicate professionally with you as the client, how can you be sure they’re representing you to the highest standard within the media landscape? The rapport you’re comfortable with is entirely up to you, but if you ever feel the standard should be lifted, don’t be afraid to make it known.
- They know who your competitors are and what they’re doing
How can Roger Federer expect to dominate a championship circuit unless he has studied every element of his opponent’s game? He must know Nadal’s receiving strategy intimately. He should be able to visualize Djokovic’s backhand as accurately as his own. What about your PR team? Do they know who your competition in order of importance? Are they aware of what PR tactics your biggest competitor is deploying this summer? Have they studied what makes the market leader so unique and attractive to customers? Be it hotels, high schools or hair products, your PR team should be actively investigating what you’re up against, and how you can set yourself apart.
- They take professional accountability
Missed opportunities, mistakes and minor miscommunications are all possible in PR – we’re all human after all. But the one thing you don’t want to receive from your agency is a solid line of defense each time an inaccuracy or blunder occurs. If an email was sent to a journalist in which your PR team gave the wrong details “off the record” and they ended up in print, your PR team should apologise, take responsibility and professionally manage the situation. If a feature on Dubai’s best gentleman’s tailors ran in the UAE’s largest newspaper and you, a gentleman’s tailor, were not included in the round-up, your PR team should be able to professionally acknowledge that it was an important missed opportunity, and address some alternative strategies to put you back in the spotlight.
- They respect deadlines
We’re all busy, but it’s critical that despite what role you play in the mechanics of a project, you meet the deadlines you have agreed upon with your professional counterparts. It’s expected that the delivery of a press release or communications plan could be held-up due to unforeseen circumstances, but it’s important your PR team keep an open line of communication with you about the status of current projects. If a deadline can’t be met, you should be notified by your PR team well in advance to allow for back-up planning, rather than hear nothing from them at all. Ultimately deadlines are set for a reason, because we all play our part in a bigger picture. Compromised deadlines can have an impact at every level of a project, from the courier who misses the delivery date to the PR team who sent out the invitations one week late – all can have detrimental effect on the ability to deliver a project with the desired outcome.
- They meet challenges with a positive attitude
Let’s face it, we don’t live in a perfect world. Unforeseen developments arise on a regular basis, and regardless of the industry we work in, it’s our job as professionals to meet those challenges head on and with a solution-oriented mindset. If when complications arise your PR team tends to focus on all the negatives and shows little interest in problem solving, it’s important you assess whether they have your best interests at heart. Your PR team should be your strategic extension, and hopefully they have been engaged as a result of their dynamism, passion and proven track record of helping businesses overcome PR challenges. So if all they can offer you is more doom and gloom when unfavourable issues arise, it’s time to think seriously. You expect honestly and transparency from your PR team, but equally you deserve enthusiasm for problem solving and carving out new opportunities.
It should be acknowledged that PR well done can be a very challenging and intensive line of work, particularly from an agency perspective where many players are on the court at any one time. Nonetheless, if an agency has taken you on and pitched hard for your business, then they should be ready to rise to the challenge with energy, excitement and impact, and at the very least display several or all of the above traits, which take a PR team from good, to great.
Have you ever worked with a PR agency? What traits did you find the most important when working on campaigns together? What factors let you down?