When Things Go Bad

Aaron Blank / May 21, 2012

How do you know when things aren’t going well with your PR agency partner?

A few common warning signs usually indicate you will not get what you pay for when you’re working with a communications agency or firm.

Watch out for these warning signs:

  • Guaranteed results: You can never guarantee results. If an agency promises “guaranteed results”, ask how they will accomplish it. No one can ensure any outcome, especially press coverage unless you pay your way – which you can do, but that is called advertising.
  • Research is very important but when is enough, enough? There should be a balance between planning and doing. You want results but don’t over-spend on research. Make sure you get research integrated into your planning process, but don’t over-compensate.
  • In your initial search for a communications agency, you meet with your prospects. You tell them what your perceived challenge is and you ask them to create a proposal for you. When you get the proposal, there are no specifics. Don’t waste your time. The firm shouldn’t waste theirs either. When you meet with a firm, make sure you know exactly what’s planned so that a scope of work can be defined. This should become the roadmap by which your agency follows throughout the contract.
  • You’re charged an unusually low retainer. This probably means you can’t expect much work. Clients often confuse retainers with hourly rates. A retainer simply means you are purchasing a sum of hours that the agency will not exceed each month. It is in your best interest to come to an agreement on a retainer fee – and it is your best interest to understand exactly how this works. For example, hypothetically speaking, if Client A has a budget of $15,000 a month, Client A will get a sum of hours not to exceed that number and hours that fit within it.  If Client B has a budget of $10,000 a month, Client B will get a sum of hours not to exceed that number and hours that fit within it. The retainer is set so that you don’t get a bill that exceeds your budget. And it helps the firm manage the account more effectively. Your account team should give you weekly updates on what remains in the budget.
  • You get status reports but no results. First, make sure your agency is giving you weekly and monthly recap reports. You ought to know what they are working on. Second, make sure you are meeting with them on a consistent basis so that you know exactly what is being performed. Third, make sure they report into you. You should know what sort of work is being performed. Finally, if there is no results, changed courses. Correct the situation.
  • The team you met with in your initial meetings is not the team working on the business. This is called ‘bait and switch’ and is usually found in “most” agencies with large teams.
Aaron Blank, Puget Sound Business Journal's 40 under 40 recipient - 2015

Aaron Blank

President and CEO

Aaron has been engaged in the conversation since the late 1990s, where he discovered his love of media while working at local radio stations. After five years as a radio reporter, anchor, producer and promoter in New York and Connecticut, he and his wife, Lacey, ventured west to begin his career in PR. Soon he caught the attention of industry legend Pat Fearey and the rest is history. Two decades later, as President and CEO of The Fearey Group, Aaron leads with tireless enthusiasm and contagious drive. He takes his breakfast at 4:30 AM and never eats lunch alone. You can find him working to connect the next business with tomorrow’s leader.

Personal philosophy: do something amazing every day!