Alright, stop. Collaborate and listen

Why working with other PR agencies doesn’t have to degenerate into ‘Mine’s bigger than yours’

I’ve shaken my thing to Ice Ice Baby any number of times in the past (mostly at university), but I’ve never taken the time to really appreciate the lyrical musings of Vanilla Ice. I’m one of those annoying people that will often remember the first line of a song, sing that at the top of my voice and then mumble my way through the rest of it, hoping to distract you with my ludicrous dance moves.

But collaboration is the theme of the day and the one line I do remember is the opening gambit from verse one of the aforementioned rap masterpiece; this segues me nicely into what I really wanted to talk about, and that is what happens when two PR agencies have to work together on a joint announcement from their respective clients.

For the last few weeks, I’ve had to do just that and it has been a thoroughly pleasant experience. Why? From the off, it was very clear that both agencies were only really interested in one thing; securing a truck load of coverage for their clients. This is as it should be. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and all too often you come up against someone on the other side of the agency fence who clearly feels they have a point to prove, and wants to make sure everyone knows they are the top dog.

All hands (excuse the industry parlance) calls at the outset of such collaborative efforts can fill one with trepidation. How often am I going to have to smile sweetly through gritted teeth when the person on the other end of the line is doing their level best to make things as awkward as possible? How often will I have to be the bigger man and concede on pretty much all areas of responsibility, just to keep the peace? How often will they say something that is just plain wrong or give bad advice to their client? And if you question them, will it make you look like the bad guy?

It can be an absolute nightmare. As this week has proved, it doesn’t have to be like this.

Yes, you need a bit of an ego to get along in PR, it’s that kind of industry, but all this macho posturing – of which the fairer sex are equally capable – really highlights is your own insecurities about the account you are working on. Are you that afraid that your client might see another agency do a better job than you that you’d rather torpedo the whole exercise by making it impossible for anyone to shine?

Whether this behaviour is inherent to an agency’s DNA or just a few bad apples, as an industry, we need to cut it out. Frankly, you’re making us all look bad.

By working with others to maximise the opportunities for both sides, the outcome is always going to be better. I concede that someone probably needs to take the lead, but if that’s been established, your first question should be, “How can I work with you to do a kick-ass job for our clients?”

Measure the outcomes by the sum of the whole; don’t compartmentalise things to show ‘our results’ and ‘their results’. Newsflash: if we’ve got an announcement going out, I’ll be totting up all the coverage that has our client’s name on it, so why don’t you do likewise? One can be transparent about each agency’s role in a PR initiative and of course it’s possible that one agency might pull in a few more hits than the other, but I suspect most clients get pretty bored of hearing how brilliant you think you are and just want to know how good they look in the coverage.

Remember, this is an industry where your reputation goes a long way – and that counts doubly if you are difficult to work with.


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