Do Agencies Even Matter?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest PR agency of all?

Faced with this question, many a client in need of help has searched high and low for The Answer. And many an agency has puffed itself with delusional self-congratulations.

Some PR people live for this debate, and they are ready to aggressively fight for the honor of their agency! Kind of like sports talk radio. Colts or Bears? Buckeyes or Jayhawks? Himle or Macabee? Go, team, go!

This strikes me as a totally meaningless debate. Any given client’s experience with an agency is based on their experience with individuals, not the institution. There are top-notch practitioners at institutions with lousy reputations, and wholly incompetent airheads at agencies with impeccable reputations. So, I submit the agency is largely a non-factor.

Here’s my unsolicited advice for anyone hiring an agency: First, disregard all agency capability PowerPoint presentations. Sure, the Cirque du Soleil transitions are mesmerizing. Yes, they do make impressive use of the terms “synergy,” “paradigm” and “new media.” And it’s hard to forget the scintillating, and proprietary, “Reputation Pyramid.” But these capabilities presentations tell you nothing real. I’m not exaggerating here (that part comes later). Nothing.

The second thing you should do is find out which person(s) is being proposed to do the actual work on your account. Hint: It may not be the well-coiffed CEO at the pitch who is incessantly complimenting you on your penny loafers. Also, it’s possible the Wonder Woman who lists 17 other live accounts on her bio just may not be at your beck and call after all.

When you learn who is going to work on the business, research that person, not the agency. Make sure the person(s) that they are offering up has the right stuff for your particular circumstances. The right chemistry for you and your superiors. The right kind of actual successes on like tasks. The right kind of supporting cast to get the work done as fast as you need it. Lots of happy clients in their wake. That kind of thing.

And once you are happy with that PERSON, memorialize their fidelity to you in contractual language.

Forget about the agency! It just doesn’t matter if an agency is Best of Show, Agency of the Millennium, or was recently puffed up in some sycophantic trade rag. It just doesn’t matter.

— Loveland