2nd March 2020

Why the PR agency model needs a rethink

Sam Woodman
Managing Director, EMEA

Intern, Junior Account Executive, Account Executive, Senior Account Executive, Account Manager, Senior Account Manager, and on and on it goes.

Those of us climbing the ladder in the PR world are all too familiar with the yearly, bi-yearly, or ad-hoc promotion cycles that delight the few, and make the majority of us question why we’ve spent the last 365 days eating fast food in the office, while getting to know the night staff! 

When I left the traditional PR agency world, a part of me planned to go in-house. It’ll be easier I thought, there’ll be less pressure, less deadlines and well – as we all know – the money is certainly better! But, what I stumbled across instead is a little bald man named Simon Cliffe, who taught me that you don’t have to do one or the other – you can do both. 

Since joining Branch Road four years ago I’ve spent time in my clients’ offices nearly every week, been invited to ‘internal meetings’, and still enjoyed the good old PR agency buzz at our office in Farringdon.

Two things it’s taught me is that in-house PR is far from a doddle (they have ‘clients’ too), and that traditional PR agencies need to focus less on what they think their clients want, and more on what their clients need.

The one-size-fits-all approach to PR account management no longer works. Not all clients want a weekly ‘check-in’ call, weekly recap email, or 60-page monthly report (in fact I’d argue most don’t).

Having spent the last three years working as much in my clients’ offices as my own, there are five common misconceptions I’ve noted in traditional PR agencies:

Misconception 1: Clients need fancy reports 

While there’s a place for this on some accounts, a generic client coverage report will never work – especially if you’re cutting into 15% of billable hours to make it look pretty. Less is definitely more!

Your clients are time-poor, under pressure to deliver, and will know how best to report results to the leadership team. Work with them to find out the best way to showcase results and ROI.

The end result will likely be a report that saves you time – time which you can spend focusing on getting better results!

Misconception 2: Weekly check-ins are the best way to keep accounts on track 

If you’re in communication enough with your clients you won’t hear anything on a weekly call that surprises you. Don’t save questions, concerns or updates for your weekly call, pick up the phone, inform your client in real time, and they’ll likely return the gesture when any changes occur their side that will impact you!

Misconception 3: Sending emails after hours proves you’re hard-working 

If anything, it does the opposite. It suggests you are overworked, don’t have time for your client in working hours, and that you are leaving their work to the last minute.

Misconception 4: Missing deadlines is always unacceptable 

It’s not, as long as you are upfront, can give justifiable reasons as to why activities have been delayed, and most importantly you can prove that extending the deadline will improve quality, output and results for your clients.

More often than not they will prefer a missed deadline to a rushed job just to hit an often arbitrarily imposed deadline.

Misconception 5: You can understand your client’s business by reading up on it 

The only way to truly understand your clients’ business is to regularly sit with them in the office; meeting the team, understanding the barriers faced by the sales team, and understanding where your client spends his/her worry time.

After all, your job is to overcome the barriers to adoption, shift brand perception, and help your client prove the value of PR internally. How can you do that without a real world view of the business?

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