PR relationships are like marriages. When both sides are in synch, you operate in harmony and you both can live happily ever after.
But it’s not always hearts and flowers. Whether you’re a startup that hired its first PR firm or a large corporation with broad internal and external communications relationships, sometimes things go wrong. Like a bad marriage, it’s often better for both sides to go through a quick divorce and find messaging love elsewhere than keep a bad engagement going.
So when do you know it’s time to have “the talk” about divorcing your PR firm? Here are some of the warning signs.
You’re Not Talking
No one likes the silent treatment. It happens in a lot of relationships. You literally run out of things to say. Relationship experts will tell you it’s time to spice up your partnership, but, with a communications firm, finding that spice is supposed to be core to the work. Many PR relationships simply get stale. On the surface, there’s nothing necessarily wrong. Deadlines are being met. Work is being delivered. But the really interesting conversations have stopped. It feels like everyone – on both sides – is just going through the motions.
Truth is, when you hire a communications firm, you’re outsourcing energy, excitement and creativity. Ideas and conversation are the currency of a PR relationship. That spark, that spirit is never supposed to go away. If it feels stale, it’s time to find another firm.
You Want to See Other People
The value of hiring a communications firm is leveraging the long-term relationships its staff has with members of the media. Pitching is less science than art, and firms that are effective at media relations draw on relationships they’ve had with reporters over years and decades. That helps ensure that your message is placed with the right journalists and the right audiences.
But, sometimes, there’s overkill in those relationships. Some firms focus on a very small group of reporters and continuously push coverage to just those media titles. While that ensures a steady stream of press mentions, it doesn’t broaden your company’s reach.
When you find yourself talking to the same journalists over and over again, it’s OK to want to tell your story to other reporters. There’s nothing wrong with seeing other people, and it’s up to your communications firm to ensure you get the chance.
You’re Hiding Things From Your Partner
Communications is a two-way street. The only way to be effective in communicating your message is to be forthright and honest. The most effective communications firms are really experts in business strategy. As you talk through long-term plans and goals, your PR partners are assessing how to communicate that strategy to all the people who matter: your customers, the media, your employees and your stakeholders. The same is true for when a problem develops: the earlier you bring in PR counsel to help handle a response to a potential crisis situation, the better.
But this kind of early engagement with your communications team takes trust. You have to trust they know what they’re doing, they can think creatively and – most importantly – that they deserve to know all the details of your strategy or problem. If your instinct is to hold back information from your PR firm, it probably means you don’t trust them enough. That’s a big red flag.
You Envy Other People’s Relationships
When you read a story online or look at the lineup at a key industry conference, does it make you envious? Do you wish your firm was included? Making sure your company’s thought leadership is visible is an important task for any communications firm.
If you’re seeing your competitors’ names in places where your brand should be, it’s a sure sign that the competitors’ communications ground game is stronger than your own. That’s an indictment of your current firm…and a good reason to show them the door.