Selecting a PR agency—just like vetting an employee—can be an arduous and expensive process.
The cost of replacing an employee is “higher than it seems,” Marketplace recently reported. Citing studies, its article states, “the cost of replacing an employee can be 1.5 to sometimes three times the position’s annual salary.”
Those are just the hard costs of physically replacing an employee.
The softer costs are perhaps harder to measure, but arguably more expensive. With each departed employee goes his or her learning curve—the time he or she spent to learn how to do the job well.
The level of responsibilities in the knowledge economy, combined with headcount pressure, means fewer people do more work. As a result, the learning curve—and the cost of that learning curve—gets steeper each year.
Hiring and managing PR agencies is similar—the model of professional services, whether fixed-fee or billable hour, is to provide expertise, for a given period of time, at a set cost.
However, PR agencies are—or should be—familiar with aspects of the particular business to help the client perform with greater efficiency.
These valuable traits of good PR firms can coincide with an organization’s investment—and are elements that can offset your costs:
1. Knowledge of people and the organization.
PR pros must complete assigned tasks from start to finish with minimal intervention in order to be efficient. No corporate communicator wants to hire an agency only to have to facilitate every writing assignment.
An educated PR agency learns who the key players are and how to reach them. It goes both ways, too—when key players are familiar with an agency, they are also quicker to respond.
2. Historical business knowledge.
As the saying goes, those that do not study history are bound to repeat it. Historical knowledge in the PR agency/client relationship means an investment in—and knowledge of—the following:
- Reporter or influencer history: Areas of interest, previous coverage and relationship with the client or business, including pitfalls and successes.
- Product history: The customer, launches, enhancements, crisis communications and basic strengths and weaknesses.
- Industry trends: Trends ebb and flow and often come full circle. The cost of switching PR firms is intrinsically tied to the agency’s ability to command a comprehensive knowledge of the landscape.
3. How work gets done.
Every organization has its own unique process and procedures, from copy approval to accounts payable.
The cost of replacing a firm includes both teaching the new agency about organizational processes and adjusting to those the agency will bring.
This is usually rendered in the form of reporting, billing and day-to-day communications, as both parties gain a sense for each other and how to work well together.
4. Company politics.
Every organization has some level of political jockeying, and the larger the organization, the more intensive the politics.
An agency that has invested in an organization’s political education is better able to navigate power players outside of marketing to get things done.
Business metrics matter, but it would be disingenuous to avoid saying, on some level, that an agency needs to make the client look good.
5. Voice of the company.
Some organizations have a unique tone and voice. It’s an intangible that’s hard to quantify, but shows itself in the red ink of “tracked changes.”
The cost of switching agencies in this case is time—your time to manage, edit, facilitate, run interference and a long litany of other tasks until a new agency gets the hang of things. Those billable hours are what bean counters call a sunk cost.
Ounce of prevention vs. pound of cure
Having worked for a handful of firms—and hiring or replacing a handful more—it all boils down to planning. Business owners tend to hire PR firms in a rush—budget allocations come through and must be spent before the end of the quarter.
There’s an old mantra among HR pros that business owners should be “slow to hire and quick to fire.” The same holds true for hiring a PR firm.
However, the current mentality gives PR firms a valuable opportunity and competitive advantage. You can win clients over if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, dedicate a few hours each week to research and learning and display your knowledge of a client’s business faster.