New Business? Not With This Global PR Firm!

by coach on November 19, 2010

Fail (19/08/07 137)

Big PR agency FAIL leaves prospect wondering

PR COACH GUEST POST
I recently got a note from Carrie, a savvy social marketer and Twitter colleague based in Dallas, Texas. She related a funny-sad story about trying to hire a global PR agency.

I invited her to write a guest post to share her experience and to remind PR agencies and other PR pros what it means to be “professional.” This is the kind of PR agency Fail that leaves you scratching your head.

I work for a small start up software development company in Dallas. I have a story to tell about trying to hire a global PR firm. Maybe it will resonate with other businesses or remind PR agencies of some important lessons about professionalism?

I have a challenging and demanding job in a busy marketing department.  I know PR is a very important part of marketing and getting your name out there so I talked with our CEO about the possibilities of using public relations to build awareness and business.

Initially, he was reluctant but after several weeks, he suggested I talk to a PR firm with experience in the restaurant technology space.  Our product is a rewards and loyalty program for restaurants, powered by software technology. So we needed a firm that’s done work in that sector.

Seeking a PR Agency Partner

I did what I do best and reached out to my professional contacts for recommendations.  One suggested a well known global PR firm. She’s a freelance copywriter and works for them from time to time.  I trust her judgment, so I called to set up a meeting.

The firm is in Austin so we scheduled a web meeting.  Naturally, I was excited about the prospect of working with a top notch global PR firm.  The call started out great. Each person at the agency introduced themselves and told us about their experience.

Wow, what a great group of professionals with diverse backgrounds. Just what we needed!  Our CEO seemed equally impressed.  I was patting myself on the back for a job well done but I should not have patted so soon.

After our initial meeting, my main contact sent a follow up email to say he’d be happy to sign our NDA and put a proposal together for us within a week.

A week went by with no word from the PR firm.  I sent our contact an email and he responded saying it was taking a bit longer for our proposal than expected.  He apologized and I didn’t think it was a big deal.  I could wait one more week.  Another week passed without further contact.

Now, I figured it’s time for a follow up.

PR Agency Follow Up Fizzles

This is where things went haywire.  I sent him another email and he didn’t respond.  A couple of days later, I call and leave a message on his work phone with no call back.  I send him another email the following week with no response.  I call him on his personal cell phone and he does not respond.

Now, a month after we were promised a proposal? Nothing.  Not even a call of apology. I’m thinking this is not good.  My CEO has asked me twice about what’s going on with the agency.  Of course, I look bad because I recommended them in the first place.

In a final attempt, I reach another gal from the original briefing meeting. Great. Finally a real live human being.  I relate my many attempts to follow up without any response or acknowledgement.  I even tell her that if they do not want to do business with us that’s fine but they need to tell us one way or another.

She apologizes for her coworker’s unprofessional behavior and says he has been traveling.  I’ve heard almost every excuse in the book and at this point I could give a rat’s you-know-what if he’s been traveling.  If he’s in PR, he has got to be connected, especially to his main office.  She says she’ll talk to him and promises to get back to me by the end of the day.  Did I ever hear back from her?  NO!

I’m baffled by this situation. It disturbs me on so many levels:

  • The key to being a successful business is follow up and follow through.
  • If they didn’t need or want our business, they should have told us we don’t feel you would be a good client and/or fit for us.
  • My main point of contact was the Director for their Austin office and he’s worked in their corporate office as well.
  • I realize we’re a startup but our budget is solid and realistic.
  • It took me time to convince our CEO on the value of PR and this whole experience made me look bad.
  • I just revisited their website.  It looks like they were more concerned with rebranding themselves than following up with potential clients.
  • They have a global network of 90 offices in 60 countries.
  • They should rewrite their core values because they did not stand behind number one.  Maybe that happens after you become a client or if you have more business than you need?
  • This unprofessional conduct reflects poorly on that agency and other PR agencies.

Three core values stand behind our brand around the world.  We are: Accountable, Challenging and Team focused. I’d hoped our potential would follow its own core values.

Perhaps business is so good for Texas PR agencies that they can treat business prospects this poorly? We’d never handle a potential client like this. Our reputation is too important.

I’ve withheld the name of the individuals and firm out of professional courtesy.  But I’m hoping the message to other PR pros is clear. Be professional! Will we ever hire a PR firm? Based on this experience that’s highly unlikely.

Author:  Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

Photo credit: Dave Parry – The Happy Robot

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