I’ve been around the ‘PR block.’ I’ve worked in a communications and public relations capacity in a variety of industries, building tremendous wealth and results: television, hi-tech, environmental, state and federal governments. With service from a junior to a SVP, I’ve hired a number of PR firms, fired a few more, worked at a couple, and operate one with great success. And I’ve learned to see what literally smells. Here’s my down-and-dirty top 6 signs your PR firm is failing you – all indicators you ought to check your checkbook and consider checking in somewhere else.

6. Double Billing

If your relationship with your PR firm is such that incidental or incremental charges can be billed directly to your corporate credit card, you need to check your monthly statements from the PR firm and compare them with your credit card statements.

One would think this to be the last reason to critically examine a PR firm, but from experience, I’ll tell you it’s relevant. I’ve seen this form of double billing happen and I’ve blown loud whistles. If you’ve approved Google Ads or Pandora buys (or anything similar) and permitted the PR firm to direct those charges to your credit card, you should re-evaluate.

5. People are Crying, Literally

If you’ve met with your PR firm’s representative and staff and wondered why some of their eyes are cloudy and the mascara is running, wonder no more. If you thought some on this team have been crying it’s likely because they have been. I’ve seen it. I offered the tissues.

Notwithstanding human dignity, your PR firm should never be so worried or frightened over results so as to, literally, cry. This can exist when the firm oversells its capabilities and you can learn whether this is evident if you’ve cozied up with your PR firm’s representative or point of contact. You should also ask yourself whether you bought something from someone who has ‘disappeared’ from the PR firm’s landscape… then ask why… which brings me to my next point.

4. Selling Services No One Can Provide

If you’re souring on your PR firm and you’ve expressed this, beware of promises made by the firm’s representative. The firm can only do what the firm can do.

If your firm is hot into quote and photograph inclusion in major publications and you’re thinking social and digital, don’t be fooled. Know your PR team and know that if what you’re asking for isn’t currently provided, you’d better ask who will provide it. And ask who the firm is presently providing the services for… which brings me to my next point.

3. Lying About Clients

If your firm boasts this current client list, for example:
















But the reality looks more like this:















…you should do more than some checking. If the clients are published on the PR firm’s site, ask the firm to provide contacts for verification. And don’t think this false reality lies only with ‘small’ firms.

2. Lying About Staff

Yep. It happens. Don’t trust websites and similar collateral. If your PR firm outlines a staff or a team of people, ask the firm for a face-to-face meeting with your special team and confirmation they’ll be working for you, on your account.

PR firms that succeed in earning your trust will exemplify a combination of skills and abilities: traditional PR earned media placement, social media buying + analytics, digital capability and crisis communications.

1. No Results

Assuming you’ve given your PR firm an ample amount of time to turn the tide and gain results, and assuming you have a service or product worth its salt – and your PR firm has confirmed their beliefs in you and your product – you need to walk away when there are no demonstrable results.

When to walk away is determined by you and your contract, but remember results aren’t necessarily sales, for if that was your mission you’d have hired a marketing firm or paid for advertising. Yet if you’ve been convinced of the plan laid out by your PR firm and, well, still nothing in the way of results… it’s time for firing.

I’ve seen all of this happen. And I’ve shaken my head. Don’t shake yours. Ask the right questions and get the right answers.

Learn more about results-driven consulting.

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