COVID-19 cost-effective PR

In recent years our Sydney-based PR agency has lost long term technology clients’ business even though we were achieving excellent results. Why?  Simply because someone at head office, 12,000km distant, chose to run with a multinational PR agency.

Their decisions overruled the preferences of clients’ Australian executives and their regional teams. Subsequently our former contacts (still friends) told us their media and social media exposure had plummeted – by more than 50 percent in two cases.

With the World Health Organisation announcing a coronavirus pandemic, economies are teetering on the brink of recession. So why pay more for less in the public relations sector?

Clearly our uncertain future is prompting organizations to assess their marcomms results and possibly seek better value from PR. They are learning that less is more.

We hear rumors that some of the multi-national agencies may be at risk. Our experience of interacting with the big PR agencies used by some of our clients is mixed. Some are highly professional, others less so.

We wrote case studies for one high profile IT vendor about their customers’ experiences in Europe, Mid-East and elsewhere, while a high profile global agency looked after their Australian account. We were copied in on certain local emails, one of which announced that the Sydney Morning Herald had not published case study X.

Two glaring errors there: first the newspaper does not publish IT case studies; secondly, it was a Brisbane case study. At 450 miles (725km) distant, a Sydney daily newspaper would never have published.

This experience supports our belief that certain agencies tend to send in the A-team when pitching for new business, they have less experienced people running the account. Certainly many of the multinationals we know have high staff turnovers.

This week we were contacted out of the blue by Australia’s leading marketing publication, seeking a quote from a client that quit two years ago and moved to a ‘major’ agency. We believe it is quite telling that their new ‘bigger, marketing-focused’ agency has not managed to get on the radar of the industry’s primary publication.

A PR friend who runs a mid-sized agency from Silicon Valley describes certain larger agencies as ‘bureaucratic’.

We discovered what he means by seeing a client’s US agency’s plan for issuing a news release. This comprised a complex document outlining in great detail each individual media person targeted. It would have taken hours to compile, all billable time equating to zero productivity.

Instead, we focus on achieving results.

Surprisingly often, we see news releases and byline articles from agencies that bear no resemblance to the writing style of their media targets. Few journalists have time to read a 200-plus word intro, with twin deck headlines almost half as long.

From time to time we suggest tactfully to a client’s communications chief that he/she should advise their home country agency to study the way their target media write and emulate that style.

We work on knowing journalists personally, write news releases that conform with their style, and simply send clients the results rather than inundating them with expensive and unnecessary bureaucracy.

For companies looking for the right PR agency, we offer this advice:

  1. Make sure an agency understands your company and its technology. Recently a client explained why we won their account. After Marketing narrowed the vetting process down to two agencies, their final request was ‘describe our technology to me’. Our rival agency couldn’t.
  2. Don’t pay for your agency’s posh address. It is no guarantee of better results or increased media coverage.
  3. Agencies like to drop names of their media contacts, but these may not be appropriate reporters, editors or analysts for a specific company. Experienced professionals develop new relationships as required.
  4. Check an agency’s clips book, but beware of results for high profile clients which are relatively easy to achieve. See what they score for clients your own size and budget.
  5. A client’s needs and budget may vary from month to month, so an agency must be prepared to work with a flexible budget.
  6. At an initial meeting, does the agency listen, or are they in ‘sell’ mode? If they don’t listen, can they really understand and meet your needs?

For vendors seeking a street-smart Aussie-based agency that can coordinate campaigns anywhere, or work seamlessly with a vendor’s agencies worldwide, we can help. PR Deadlines forms part of the GlobalCom PR-Network and marketing communications agencies which has 80-plus offices serving over 100 countries worldwide. We can work closely with them all.

By David Frost, CEO, PR Deadlines.

PR Deadlines is an official member of GlobalCom PR Network.