By: Santiago Villegas, Co-Founder of 1903 Public Relations
There is a common misconception when it comes to choosing public relations agencies that bigger is always better — which in my experience hasn’t been the case. For the most part, if you don’t have one of the biggest budgets, larger agencies may give you less attention. The PR budget for larger companies start at $30,000 per month. If you’re not planning to spend that much, why would they prioritize you or your company’s needs? They won’t. You could blow your budget to retain that larger agency and still wouldn’t get the return you wanted.
Companies often select a larger agency because of name recognition and the idea that individuals at larger agencies have connections they can leverage with reporters. The truth is that larger agencies aren’t the only ones who can make meaningful media connections. Media relations can be done by anyone who has the creativity to come up with a compelling pitch that a reporter can’t say no to.
While having a relationship with a reporter can be helpful, it’s not the end-all-be-all of whether a reporter decides to take a story or not. If the story the public relations person is pitching is complete garbage, whether they have a relationship with the reporter won’t matter. Journalists won’t risk their own career to push for and publish a bad article. If an agency is pitching your company for business and say they have connections – run! This means they rely more on connections then creating actual creative campaigns that connect with a larger audience and that would catch the attention of a reporter. Like I previously mentioned, if the story is trash a reporter won’t risk their reputation to do someone a “solid.”
But, you might say, “I’m working with the CEO and all senior executives on the team – how could they not deliver?” Well the truth is they’re not the one’s managing your account. They might be the ones leading your weekly meetings, but as I mentioned earlier unless you are a larger client then you won’t be getting their full attention on the day to day. This is something many companies have experienced when they are engaging with PR agencies. Often the team that sold them aren’t the ones who actually run the account. Many times, large agencies will pitch a company with their senior executive team and push the work down to junior level executives. While these junior executives might put out good work, companies often hire PR agencies because of the senior executives’ offered so you’re starting from a place of dishonesty with your new agency.
The problem remains that larger agencies can look at their smaller accounts as a place to just phone it in and collect your monthly retainer. Companies who have never had any experience with public relations can easily suggest things that aren’t newsworthy and won’t move the needle for their own company. This is completely understandable, but it’s up to the PR agency to either level-set and explain why it’s not news, or find an angle that makes it newsworthy. The problem begins to be very evident when the PR agencies just say yes to everything without really questioning if it will be beneficial to your business. That should be a red flag to your company. A PR agency that doesn’t push back may signal that they have checked-out and are now happy to do busy-work that will not further your business goals.
At the end of the day, the reason that you add public relations to your company should be exactly that — to further your business goals. When engaging with PR agencies, whoever you engage with should be treated as a partner. Ultimately, companies who aren’t the Googles, Apples, or Microsofts of the world should really decide whether they would generate any success, or get lost in the shuffle of larger accounts at larger PR agencies. While smaller PR agencies might not have the name recognition of some of it’s larger counterparts, they certainly have the skills to get results and the ability to give you the attention your company deserves. Rather than going with their reputation or the name on the door, go with the people that you connect with who will personally care not just about you but your business as well. While PR can get a bad reputation, hiring an agency can make a difference to your business if you partner with the right firm.