Specialist PR firms make more sense
If you’re thinking about hiring a public relations agency, choose carefully. Hiring a global firm with thousands of employees can be enticing, but know what you’ll be paying for. With a specialist PR agency, your money primarily goes towards the talent that supports you; not on a legacy operating model.
Specialist PR firms are ideally suited to this modern world of communications. Here are a few reasons why.
When you hire a smaller firm that concentrates on specific industries, such as wholesale financial markets, you benefit from an alignment of expertise and experience. Everyone in the firm is focused on understanding the ecosystem in which the clients operate. In large firms, the account executives you are dealing with are likely representing clients from several industries.
Large, global PR conglomerates usually own many agencies, working under a corporate umbrella. With hundreds, if not thousands of clients, you matter to them only insofar as the value you bring to the bottom line, which in most cases will be a small fraction of a basis point. But when you account for 5% or even 10% of a smaller firm’s revenue, you can be assured that you matter.
At smaller firms, experienced senior managers play an important role in supporting clients, especially when it comes to strategy. At large agencies, the most senior people – the ones with all the experience – are nowhere to be seen. That’s because they have moved on from selling to you to pitching for more new business.
Smaller firms have the ability to sign tailored business agreements that reflect your needs – not the cookie-cutter model that giant PR conglomerates rely on to meet the financial goals set by their accounting departments. If you need flexibility, you’re better off with a specialist firm, where you can reach an agreement with the founders.
In a digital and inter-connected world, you need the team supporting you to look across channels, and not be constrained by a traditional PR model. Your best opportunities might be at a conference, in social media, or through a corporate video.
When you ask a large firm for global support, you’ll be introduced to separate teams in foreign locations that act as completely independent profit centers. It is not much different from hiring separate PR agencies in each city or region. Global representation is one of the conglomerate’s best calling cards – but its value as an integrated solution is highly overrated. Any good independent firm will be able to oversee a global campaign with as much seamlessness as a somewhat more expensive option of a “global” giant.
So why does any firm use a monolithic PR brand? It’s a good question. There is certainly value in having a deep pool of PR professionals to draw upon, especially in a time of crisis. Crisis management requires experience and if you are willing to pay the price, larger agencies usually have the executives that can really help. They’ve also got tried and trusted processes and access to research and other resources.
Much of the reason why large firms win business is because of the comfort that a big brand brings with it – the IBM complex. But like the perceived job security that used to exist in big corporations, it’s a myth. Big firms mess up as much as small ones. They also don’t provide deeper or more experienced support.
So if you are looking for day-to-day servicing of your account, don’t think that you have the backing of a large team of professionals. You don’t. There will be at least as many people focused on your business at a boutique firm as there will be at a global giant. To understand this is to appreciate the hierarchical business model that global giants rely on.
Big is no longer better in PR. It’s all about being smarter, quicker and more flexible. And that’s worth paying for.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons of working with specialist vs global PR agencies. Please leave a comment below.
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