The new PR account, the largest signed since her fledgling agency was set up, was supposed to transform the business and bring it mainstream. It would require new staff and, if the plans ran to plan, a lease on a larger office by the middle of year two. She’d even thought about re-branding. Instead, the experience was undermining her confidence and making her question her entrepreneurial ambition.
In the excitement of having been selected against better-established agencies, she’d neglected to set clear expectations with the new client and push for a full induction to the client’s business. Once work was underway, her contact (the marketing director) didn’t view it a priority.
“He said we should focus on getting some quick wins under our belts and that we’d pick up what we needed to know about the business over time. In any event, he’d be able to point us in the right direction,” she said.
Within six weeks, he was at home tending his geraniums, having agreed to ply his trade with a competitor.
“Without being embedded in the day to day business issues and knowing who was who and what was what, we were floundering a bit. We didn’t know the executives well and struggled to get time in their diaries. We weren’t getting briefed and opportunities were passing us by without an inside steer or engagement from the client,” she admitted.
By the second month, with no replacement marketing director on the horizon, the writing was on the wall. “I knew that the results we were achieving didn’t justify the fees. I was professionally conflicted. I couldn’t reduce the fees because I had salaries to pay. We felt increasingly unwelcome whenever we entered the premises,” she said. A few weeks after that, the client gave notice to terminate.
“That gave me three months to find replacement business. We’ve replaced some but not all of it yet.”
A new relationship between a PR agency and a client can be a very exciting time. The future is paved with opportunities to enhance both businesses. But the independence that an agency brings to the table won’t deliver results without an understanding of the business, a range of relationships with subject matter experts and an inside track.
Similarly, a client that doesn’t understand its account team won’t ever truly exploit the professional service it is investing in.
An induction is not a cost to either side. It represents an investment by both parties in a successful, long-term commercial relationship. Public relations is a human discipline. The humans have to understand and engage each other for it to work.
“The shame is, I knew this,” she said, adding: “Now that a little bit of time has passed, the team can admit to me that they didn’t really enjoy the experience. On the plus side, it’s a lesson none of us are likely to ever forget or repeat.”
“I still have moments of regret at leaving a secure environment to create my own destiny. I suppose I’m stressed but not defeated,” she said, as we said our goodbyes.