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

10 thoughts on “Do Agencies Even Matter?

  1. You’re right on about typical new-business presentations, saying that they “tell you nothing real.”

    One of the most recent pieces of business we won involved almost literally nothing more than walking into the room (in jeans and a brown blazer, mind you), speaking about ourselves for about 90 seconds, and then spending the subsequent 90 minutes asking the prospect’s team questions about what they wanted. We responded to those wants and needs with original ideas (fancy that!), more questions, and a few stories from recent relevant experience.

    It wasn’t a presentation – it was a conversation. No filler, all killer. And it worked.

  2. Lurker says:

    Having been on both the client and corporate sides – I realized fast that my time was wasted on PR agency pitches on both fronts. With a local agency located on 8th and Hennepin, I managed to live through several bait and switch presos winning new biz only to manage the account and “burn” hours on reports back to the client all the standard operating PR procedures. Ugh! On the corporate side, I’ve sat in on numerous agency pitches from fancy NYC boutique agencies to Twin Cities PR execs who thought they knew something about my business. Fact is no matter what web research they do, an agency can’t come into a company and tell them anything “wow.”

    Agency folks, please heed the lesson written in Mike’s response above. In any “pitch” meeting, introduce yourselves and then ask questions. You’ll get much further if you appear honest and willing to learn what pain ails us on the corporate side versus presenting some wild program that is in left field. Creativity is nice, but when it’s far off the mark, it’s also pointless (read: you don’t get the job).

  3. Loveland says:

    Tonight?! Dang it all, and my gown is at the cleaners! Geesh, my absensce is going to be darn embarassing if this turns out to be the year that my long overdue Lifetime Achievement Award comes through.

  4. Kelly Groehler says:

    Nothing to fear: There were no nominations for the individual award this year. Unfortunate, really.

  5. Ted Davis says:

    This entry represents the marketing strategy for my PR consulting business. (Based on the last time I saw Joe, I’d estimate that we’re smaller than Loveland Communications by about 15 pounds- but we’re closing in).

    The fact is that Public Relations is by its nature a highly customized service. It is successful when the problem is matched with an individual-or group of individuals- with the skills and experience to pick apart the problem and prescribe an appropriate solution. Sometimes the appropriate solution requires the capacity that a large agency can provide. Sometimes the appropriate solution requires that a small team with specific skills be assembled to address the problem. Sometimes the appropriate solution is a single well placed phone call.

    Really, the only way a client- and the professional- can tell if they are a good match is to sit down and ask each other questions.

    Do agency’s matter? They do if they can put the right person on the problem. If an agency is taking a job to feed the machine- it is not serving the client well.

  6. A thought-provoking post, Mr. Loveland.

    But as to the PR agency choice you raised above, which bedevils so many companies . . . “Himle or Maccabee?”

    Our humble counselors are available 24/7 to help potential clients answer that eternal question.

  7. Loveland says:

    Mr. Maccabee, that’s a very generous offer to help resolve the “Himle or Maccabee” debate.

    However, I wish someone would have been available to provide counsel on “Buckeyes or Jayhawks.” I didn’t do so well with that one.

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