Understanding PR series, Part 4: The agent-client relationship

PR requires the effort of both agent and client

New to public relations (PR) for business? Here is a guide on what to expect from your PR agent as a client.

Why hire a PR agent?

A PR agent is an expert in managing communications with the public, your market of potential customers. The job of an agent is to enhance your reputation (or limit damage) through a number of means, one of the most common being through the media.

The PR agency’s job is to understand not only your industry but also the media landscape. This means getting to know publications and programs and forming a rapport with the journalists, editors and producers who work on them, a task that is generally too involved and nuanced for the average business owner to undertake well while focusing on their core business.

The client is always right…

One misconception about PR is that the PR company must always do what its client wants. Like any professional relationship, a business owner must realise that the practitioner is an expert in the field and defer to professional opinion. This does not mean you have no involvement – in fact, you need to contribute to strategy and ongoing PR activities – but you do need to realise that a professional PR agency must follow a professional code of conduct. If you’re asking the agency to do something that goes against best practice, a good agency will refuse on these grounds.

You will certainly find PR firms that operate on the ‘client knows best’ principle all or most of the time, but I’d be wary of them because it indicates a lack of respect for the profession. A good PR agent will only send media outlets newsworthy and original information, and deal with them in an ethical and understanding way—this is the basis for having an excellent reputation with media, a critical part of successful media campaigns.

When a client wants to overlook the best way to engage media, or behaves unethically, a good PR agent will refuse to represent them. For example, if a client insisted on announcing news to top tier media that was not newsworthy or accurate, we would have to decline as not only would that hurt their reputation if they did that, but they would be wasting their time (and ours, which they pay for!), and hurting our reputation.

Everything goes—or does it?

Some clients believe there are no ethics involved in PR; everything is a go-ahead, a free-for-all. That is simply not the case. A good PR agency will not get involved in a campaign unless it understand the facts and knows them to be true. There is certainly an art to finding the right angle to earn coverage for a client, but a professional PR agent will not lie for you.

No self-respecting PR agent will risk representing a client that tries to hoodwink the public. These days, with all the focus on corporate responsibility, that kind of publicity-generating activity—hype at all costs—just does not fly anymore.

Ultimately, as a client, you will benefit from having your business represented by a PR firm that has an excellent reputation with media, which means you need to be wary of PR agents willing to engage in anything that comprises their reputation—they may not have a good one to lose!

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