When to change your PR agency

Some companies get itchy feet and change their PR agency every year and at the other extreme are those aiming to present a gold watch for long service. A good proportion in the former category are either very careless in their research and selection process, or have wholly unrealistic expectations. The latter group typically falls into three categories – they’ve been incredibly lucky to find an agency that’s been consistently ‘on song’, they just can’t be bothered, or the in-house contact has a questionable financial, or even sexual, relationship with the agency boss (don’t be too shocked, it happens).

In the middle ground are companies that formally or informally review the agency relationship every two to five years and that’s a healthy process that may or may not lead to a change. As the person responsible for the agency relationship, you owe it to yourself and the company concerned to make sure you are getting value for money and not missing out on new approaches and ideas. So that review process ought to be assumed at the start of the relationship but under what other circumstances should you think about reviewing? Speaking as a former in-house communications director, here’s my top five:

  1. A key team member leaves
    This is a difficult one but it can’t be denied that the PR industry is all about individual knowledge and relationships. If a key member of the agency team does leave that big hole sometimes can’t be filled by the existing agency.
  2. The agency goes stale
    It’s one of the reasons agencies like to occasionally bring ‘fresh meat’ to the team but sometimes an agency just runs out of ideas, enthusiasm and belief and they just can’t get their mojo back.
  3. You’ve outgrown them
    There are all sorts of sub-categories here but, for instance, if you’ve grown into a multi-market operation and your agency can only support you in one it might be time to look elsewhere. Remember though, that big agency doesn’t always mean better – you might be better served by a network of independent specialists.
  4. They’ve outgrown you
    Those of us who have been around for more years than we care to remember know that there are certain large agencies that really only care about their biggest clients and smaller clients get the bare minimum in terms of strategic advice or tactical support. It’s quite a successful business model for them but for you, it’s time to go.
  5. They screw up (badly)
    Agencies do screw up on occasion because they are made up of human beings and we are all fallible but if the mistakes repeat, or they are monumental in scale, you can’t afford to take the risk. Go and go quickly.
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