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June 26, 2021

By Mark Duval - The Duval Partnership

Have you considered using a PR firm to boost your agency’s profile and generate interest from potential clients? When does a creative shop genuinely need to hire a full-time PR staffer or firm? When do they not? Understanding the difference can help your agency capitalize on its opportunities and avoid misspent resources.

In this guest post, Eric Eddy of double e pr describes four situations where a full-fledged PR initiative is not the best fit for an agency. He also answers a few of our questions about what agency leaders need to know before engaging a PR firm. Read on to learn if your agency should consider taking the PR plunge.

Here are four times when an agency is not ready for a sustained PR effort:

1. When your work doesn't involve thought leadership

Some agencies create great work but aren’t interested in producing thought leadership (and that’s OK). However, in that situation, your agency probably doesn’t need an ongoing PR effort. If your agency doesn’t want to communicate about the issues driving the industry, we recommend sticking to one-off project press releases.

Why? Publicizing an agency’s creative work alone doesn’t make for a full-fledged PR initiative. Ongoing public relations initiatives are powered by thought leadership. Given the importance of thought leadership as a vehicle to build and sustain industry visibility, a PR effort stands like a two-legged stool without it.

For agencies that aspire to be provocative and put their opinions out there in the press and onstage, a PR firm that knows how to harness the power of insights can be particularly helpful. For those that don’t, an ongoing PR initiative will be less effective.

2. When you run the risk of getting overexposed

Over the years, we've had the good fortune of working with companies for which we delivered sustained exposure, verging on overexposure. How do you go from exposure to overexposure? It happens. An advertising agency client we worked with for seven years started off as a small shop in Soho with little name recognition. Then one day, the CEO said to me: ‘We're getting too many opportunities, and it's distracting to vet them all. We need to close the pipeline a little bit.’

It's hard to argue with that. One counterpoint to consider is using PR to selectively cherry-pick a handful of only the most meaningful publicity opportunities, translating to quality, not quantity exposure.

3. When you are afraid of losing your "under the radar" mystique

For the advertising industry, in particular, having an air of mystery around your agency is one way to compel brand marketers to knock on your door. In some cases, driving awareness for an agency’s creative process in the press might risk losing that mystique.

At a certain point, good agencies will grow out of this stage, whether they have PR or not. Take Droga5, for example. They are now well established enough to have outgrown whatever air of mystery they once had — but they no longer need it because they’re now well-known for doing great work.

4. When you produce great work but at a low volume

PR may not be the best choice for agencies that don't produce a lot of work or aren't producing it for a variety of clients. If you're only doing four big campaigns a year, and two are for the same client, an ongoing PR initiative may not be the best option for you. Of course, good thought leadership insights can make up for a low volume of noteworthy work to show reporters.

Bottom line: The best success strategy is a one-two punch approach of great work and great thinking. Combined, the two will maximize your PR opportunities.

Other things agency leaders should know about PR

We asked Eric a few follow-up questions we thought our readers would want to know. Here's what he had to say.

Q. Is there anything else agency leaders should consider before deciding if PR is the right route for them?

A. Commitment. Just as ad agencies need rich partnerships with their brand clients, so too will a PR shop require that with an agency client. The success of our program hinges, in part, on an agency client's commitment to the engagement. They should view us less as a vendor and more as a partner with the ability to dramatically improve an ad firm's visibility within top-tier marketing circles.

In reality, this commitment means providing direction to our agency, participating in ongoing thought leadership conversations, and perhaps most critically, paying attention to what the media is saying and what is being discussed on the conference circuit. When clients spend time reading industry trades each week, it inevitably fuels their thought leadership work.

That being said, we also recognize an ad exec has other job responsibilities, and it's our job to do the heavy lifting, advise our client on percolating industry trends, and make the PR engagement as effortless as possible for our clients. It's possible.

Q. What can agency leaders expect to gain from engaging a PR firm like yours?

A. The ultimate goal is ongoing, sustained visibility in the press and a series of cherry-picked speaking engagements throughout the year. They can also expect "spike" moments when a rash of press hits come out all at once (usually driven by the agency issuing a press release on a breaking ad campaign), and that's when the visibility elevates to industry buzz. It's an exciting time when that happens.

Q. What should agency leaders look for in a PR agency?

A. There have been numerous surveys over the years on what companies most value from a PR shop. Interestingly, it's not PR results. Instead, companies indicate that "client service" ranks number one. It makes sense when you consider it: the PR results will inevitably come but are maximized when supported through a steadfast, strategic guiding hand. Secondly, it is about PR results.

An agency should ask to see recent press results (over the past year) and explore how they were achieved. That "under the hood" conversation will give you a good understanding of the PR firm's approach to media relations. You should also ask the PR shop to describe some recent thought leadership efforts and ask them to discuss what was pitched and the results. That will give you some insight into how the PR shop talks with the press and can assess articulateness.

About Eric Eddy:

With a formal background in business-to-business public relations on the corporate and agency side, Eric Eddy provides more than 20 years of communications expertise to his agency’s client roster.

Under Eric’s leadership, double e pr has developed an industry-wide reputation for engineering high-impact PR programs for companies in the advertising agency world. Eric’s extensive experience generating and sustaining buzz for these companies has helped establish him as a PR strategist equipped with in-depth “how-to” skills.  

Eric is a graduate of Iowa’s Drake University, where he earned a BA in communications and rhetorical theory.

 

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