PR companies deal with their fair share of obstacles. Juggling the publicity process for clients is a full-time job on its own; never mind hiring the right team, managing client expectations and keeping up with trends in an ever-changing industry.
A few weeks ago, I took to HARO (Help a Reporter Out), to find out if other PR companies and Digital Marketing agencies are facing the same battles I am.
The response was overwhelming. In just 24 hours, I had responses from 84 PR pros and agency owners. The result? I’m definitely not alone in the challenges I face as a growing Digital PR company, and odds are, you aren’t either.
Here’s how the responses broke down. Of the 84 responses, an astounding 46.4 percent said that managing client expectations was their biggest challenge. 21.4 percent expressed an issue with attracting top talent, 16.6 percent said getting and retaining clients was their biggest concern, 7.1 percent responded that garnering publicity for clients was a challenge, and lastly 5.9 percent of PR companies expressed an issue with adapting to a changing landscape. Agency owners lacking the time to focus on their own marketing and PR efforts was another common concern, expressed by more than one agency.
So what’s a PR or marketing pro to do? Let’s take a look at each of these issues a bit further.
1. Getting and Retaining Clients
You can be the best PR person or marketer in the world, but if you fail to sign clients, your business is dead in the water. The problem is, clients today are more demanding than ever. With the explosive growth of digital PR and influencer marketing, suddenly everyone’s a PR pro, which means stiff competition for those of us who are in it for the long haul. Couple that with the advent of DIY marketing and PR courses, and the fact that most people just don’t understand the PR process and closing deals has become an uphill battle.
To make matters worse, once we do get clients, reminding them why they hired us in the first place can be a challenge, and client turnover is altogether way too common.
Rachel Green, founder of A Brand Called U, says, “The biggest issue my firms faces on a daily [basis] is the importance of lifecycle marketing and public relations for small businesses. We often work with budding entrepreneurs who need assistance with the launch of their brand, who'd like to hire us for the launch but don't understand the importance of continued brand awareness after the door of their business are open.”
The first step in attracting the right type of client and setting yourself apart from your competition is to narrow your focus and zero in on a specific niche. By specializing, it’s easier to become the expert or authority figure in your specific industry. Most agencies go wrong by being generalists and not identifying the avatar for their target market.
Once you’ve found your ideal client, you can help them along by showing up front value in your services. Give them free advice, invite them to attend free webinars and blog regularly so they can learn from you without an upfront investment. It will help establish your credibility and also build rapport with potential customers, so you’re the source they turn to when they’re ready to make a buying decision.
2. Attracting Top Talent
“The biggest issue that I face on a daily basis is finding and retaining top-shelf talent. As digital marketing is a relatively new industry, and still not something taught with any rigor at universities, the pool of qualified candidates is small,” says Adrian Cordiner, Director at Digital Rhinos
Fly-by-night freelancers who promise the farm and don’t deliver is a legitimate problem in the PR and digital marketing arena. The rise of remote workers has made it far too easy for people with a poor work ethic to creep their ways into our lives and onto our teams. Combine this with the fact that far too many old school PR pros haven’t adapted to the new rules of PR, and finding the right talent can be a real challenge for growing teams.
Think outside the box. If you’re a growing PR company that’s still very budget conscious, instead of resorting to Upwork or Freelancer for your next hire, try going to your local university. Experience has taught me that some of the best workers you’ll ever find are interns. They’re eager to learn, earn college credit and prove themselves to prospective employers. You might even end up with a full-time employee after they graduate. Win-win for everyone.
If your business is a bit more established and looking to attract world-class talent right now, it begins and ends with you. Top talent wants to work for top companies. If you’re having a problem attracting the right team, it’s time to focus on your own branding and company culture. You have to be a company that people want to work for if you want to attract the right people. There’s a reason Google doesn’t have a hard time finding world-class talent. Pave the way for prospective employees by setting the right example.
3. Managing Client Expectations
This was far and away the most overwhelming response I saw from fellow PR pros and digital agency owners. Managing client’s (usually unrealistic) expectations is one of the biggest challenges for growing PR teams, and it really boils down to a lack of understanding. Prospective clients likely don’t understand the PR process. It can also be tough to manage their vision for the PR campaign versus your vision, even though you’re the expert.
Paul R. Hughes, Director of Public Relations & Social Media at The Brandon Agency weighed in, “Clients all believe that their product, service, or offering is by far the best there is and therefore everyone on the planet will want to write about it tomorrow. I've sat in too many meetings with prospects and clients who say, 'I think the Wall Street Journal would love this story'. And through experience, I know that yes, they might, but it will be a long process. Trying to guide a client or prospect to that realization is an exercise in patience.”
Make education your first priority. Never, ever jump into a new client relationship without educating your clients first. Educate them on what your process looks like, what results they can expect and how soon they can expect them. Educate them on how the media works and why a particular story angle is (or is not) a good option.
Avoid doing business with clients who have unrealistic demands at all costs. It’s just not worth your time, sanity or potential damage to your business reputation. Case studies are incredibly helpful in educating clients on the value you provide, as well as illustrating what a successful campaign really looks like.
4. Getting Results and Publicity for Clients
Trish Hoffman of the Blitz Group LLC summed it up perfectly when she said, “Breaking News...a friend and foe. As a friend, breaking news affords us an opportunity to place a client who can respond quickly with a quote/soundbite that breaks new ground regarding that breaking news story. As a foe, breaking news erases many planned pitches and placements due to heavy coverage of that breaking story. This situation can leave little to no opportunities for placements unless your client(s) is an expert in the very news story that is breaking at the time.”
Getting earned media isn’t an easy task. The media pitching process is time-consuming and unpredictable,and that’s on a good day. The fact that clients are breathing down your neck waiting for their next media mention only adds to the chaos. No one ever said being a PR person was easy.
Focus on quality over quantity. Never, ever mass pitch reporters or bloggers. It’s not worth your time or credibility. It should go without saying, but worth mentioning, that you should also research media contacts before you pitch them. Most of the time, the smaller and more targeted your media lists are, the better.
The key when it comes to media relations is to focus on building mutually beneficial relationships with media contacts in your niche. The instant gratification mentality will not serve you well in this industry. The best PR pros understand the value in relationships and remaining flexible. If one pitch angle you’re using doesn’t work, shift gears and try another.
5. Adapting to a Changing Media Landscape
PR isn’t what is used to be. Long gone are the days of faxed press releases, phone calls to your local reporter and a predictable news cycle. Welcome to modern PR. Email pitches are a dime a dozen, reporters are busier than ever and consumers want their news on every mobile device known to man. Adapting to the new rules of PR can be a challenge, especially for those who come from a more traditional PR background.
“Today, the lines of communication have been forcibly narrowed where many journalists are hesitant to give out their telephone numbers for fear of incessant pitch calls. Many journalists let people know they do not want to be pitched on the phone. This creates a major challenge, how do you know your pitch was received via email?” offered Mike Stommel, Creative Director and Principal at LB PR Media.
Stay flexible and adapt. Don’t cling to old school, obsolete PR methods that no longer serve you or your clients. I don’t care what you learned in school, or if it worked a decade ago. If it’s ineffective now, it’s time to make a change.
Become a student of the PR and digital marketing industry and never stop learning. The glorious thing about the Internet is the ever available wealth of knowledge via free webinars, blog posts and ebooks. Just like in anything else, success leaves clues. Pay attention to what successful PR teams are doing, and model their behavior. There’s really no need to reinvent the wheel.
Related Article: Stay In the Know: How to Keep Up with Digital Marketing Trends
Being Successful in 2017 and Beyond
Being a PR pro isn’t easy, but it’s certainly worth it. Mastering the PR and publicity process is one of the most valuable assets you can attain for your own business and your clients. In an industry that’s fast paced and always on, it’s easy to burn out. But you can save yourself a significant amount of time and effort by working smarter, not harder and doing things right the first time. Focus on quality over quantity when it comes to signing clients, sending media pitches and hiring talent.
Last but certainly not least, don’t ever stop working on your own business. It can be tough to find time to do your own marketing and PR, but the first step to being a great agency is leading by example. If clients and prospective talent see that you do a great job on your own branding and PR, it will give you massive credibility and increased authority in your industry.
At the end of the day, quality and value are still the trump cards and the most effective way for you to boost your bottom line. And let's be honest, it’s all about the Benjamins anyway.