There comes a time in some relationships when things go south, and it’s obvious that the end is in sight. Usually, both parties in that relationship know it, or at least see the writing on the wall.
If you happen to be a marketing or communications executive at a technology company, you may one day find yourself in the same situation with a tech public relations agency you have on retainer. While it may be hard to point to a time when the problem starts, it usually becomes painfully obvious that the engagement has deteriorated to the point where a search for a replacement agency is inevitable.
Mind you, since Swyft is a B2B public relations agency working in the highly competitive tech space, we are certainly not fans of the churn-and-burn approach to hiring creative agencies. But we would be disingenuous if we did not acknowledge that sometimes a changing of the guard results in a better alignment of capabilities, resources, and outcomes.
With that in mind, here are 10 signs that your tech company may be in need of a new public relations agency:
1. Lack of creativity:
While tech public relations agencies are not, at least in theory, intended to be as creative as advertising agencies, a healthy dose of creativity adds much needed lift to a PR strategy and day-to-day media outreach. An agency must always find ways to inject fresh ideas and be willing to challenge the status quo, whether in advance of an important industry trade show or in support of a product launch, or it will fail to bring a key attribute to an engagement. Creativity acts as a force multiplier in any media outreach campaign. There is nothing remarkable, nothing high tech or proprietary about the process of pitching journalists. But the application of an appropriate dose creativity can take an otherwise routine message and turn it into media gold.
2. Declining results:
At Swyft, we are firm believers in measuring the impact of our work for clients, often in the form of the number of interviews we book and published articles we obtain. Then we take that a step further by quantifying and qualifying the results based on the value of each article we place. In short, we strive to achieve an ambitious numeric goal by the end of a defined time period such that it reflects both a large quantity of placements overall and a healthy mix of high-value articles. If an agency fails to hit agreed-upon objectives and seems to lack a plan for turning things around, it doesn’t bode well for future performance.
3. Response times:
In every relationship there are going to be ups and downs. Response times measure the degree of urgency your agency has when it comes to servicing your account. If you experience delays on important requests, or at the very least a quick acknowledgement via email with a promise to follow-up, then it could be a reflection of how much the agency values your business. Worse, it could be a sign of professional ineptitude. Either way, it’s pattern clients find hard to ignore.
4. Quality decreases:
Many agencies receive the benefit of the doubt as long as they deliver a quality product, be it in the form of creative ideation, press release copy, media relationship building, etc. When quality suffers, however, most tech companies run out of patience quickly, especially when the engagement fees are high. Most marketing and communications executives will eagerly pull the plug when quality begins to decline and shows little sign of reversing.
5. Agency staff turnover:
An unfortunate aspect of creative agencies, agency staff turnover may at times lead to a lack of account continuity, relevant industry experience, and appropriately skilled talent. If your partner agency has seen a lot of turnover at key leadership positions or is staffed by a never-ending stream of inexperienced public relations professionals, it may be time to review the account and the direction it is headed.
6. Change in client leadership:
Similar to agency turnover, a change at the top of the client marketing organization may portend the eventual demise of an agency retainer. If a new CMO enters the picture, she may want to bring along a set of working relationships that have proven successful for companies she has run in the past. It’s part and parcel of the agency profession.
7. Bad chemistry:
An offshoot of a change in client leadership, a decline in the chemistry between agency staff and client liaisons may lead to a dysfunctional relationship and kill the productivity of the engagement. This can come from turnover on either the client or agency side, or it can be due to a past conflict between key team players. Regardless of its origin, chemistry is closely linked to trust, a sense that both sides have the other’s back. Bad chemistry necessitates radical change, often in the form of a new agency relationship.
8. New HQ:
One frequent contributor to a new PR agency search is the move of a company’s headquarters to a new city and state. For example, in the past decade, Austin has seen many tech companies move their HQs from Silicon Valley to take advantage of a relatively abundant pool of skilled professionals and a lower-than-average cost-of-living. It’s not uncommon for tech companies to pick a local B2B public relations agency to work with in order to have more face-time and the chance to develop a closer working relationship.
9. Budget change:
While not frequent, another reason tech companies select another tech public relations agency is cost. Some agencies, particularly the large multinationals, do not come cheap. Even smaller agencies based in San Francisco, New York, and Boston can cause a marketing executive to question the wisdom of paying a huge monthly fee in the face of a looming budget freeze or cut. These decisions don’t come easily. In fact, they sometimes happen despite an otherwise productive agency relationship. At the end of the day, however, communications as a piece of the marketing budget has to fit with the latest budget constraints, hence the need to look for value elsewhere.
10. International support:
Not all B2B PR agencies can provide support outside of the country in which they work. Particularly smaller agencies with a narrow focus on a particular tech vertical. That said, not all smaller PR firms are without their international reach. Swyft developed its own international network of top tech PR agencies to help clients centralize message development and seamlessly coordinate global media outreach. (Read how we helped one client in the global security camera solutions industry scale its international media relations while doubling media coverage at key trade shows in Dubai and Las Vegas.) For tech companies looking to expand overseas, finding an agency with the right mix of talent, cultural awareness, and comfort working across time zones and languages is paramount to drive ROI. Short of that, a new agency may be in order.
Admittedly, those are a lot of signs tech companies may factor in as they deliberate on whether to cut ties with an existing public relations agency. One or two or even several of these issues may not add up to a rationale for you to jettison an ongoing relationship, especially if the agency has done good work in the past. It almost always pays to work through issues proactively with as much transparency and good faith as possible. That approach could lead to greater productivity and zero account disruption.
Still, with enough of these signs present plus a belief that improvements can’t be made in the short-term, it may be the trigger you need to start searching for a new tech public relations agency. Just be sure to search, review, and choose wisely as you won’t want to get into a costly cycle of hiring and firing agencies every year.