How To Avoid Common Pitfalls When Hiring a Public Relations Agency

By Mary Gendron Senior Vice President / Managing Director, Eric Mower & Associates | October 28, 2008

The process of selecting a public relations agency is the business equivalent of embarking upon courtship and marriage. You look for the spark of romance from the very beginning, yet you desire reassurance that the relationship can be sustained over time. Finding the right balance of attraction, substance and compatibility is key. If you approach it with eyes wide open, there's a better chance of the relationship working over the long haul.

Although it's best to approach your agency search in a positive frame of mind, it may be useful to briefly consider common pitfalls so you can avoid mistakes others have made in the process. To wit:

Let's take a look at how to address each pitfall so you can approach your agency search with confidence that you'll make the right match.

Choosing an agency that is the wrong size for you

In public relations, as in many other aspects of business, size does matter. If you choose an agency that is too large, your account may lack importance in the overall scheme of that agency's business. If the agency is too small, your needs may be underserved.

In assessing which agencies to invite to the table to talk, do some research in advance. In addition to seeking referrals from trusted industry peers (highly recommended), find out as much as you can about each agency prior to approaching it. The agency's website is a good place to start. If you have a small business and the proposed agency lists mostly FORTUNE 100 accounts among its client experience, then it's probably too big for you. Your account will be assessed in terms of budget first, content second. You don't want to be the smallest account in a large agency because you will likely be disappointed by the quantity of service rendered and the experience level of the account team. Resist the temptation to go with a big brand name if it doesn't pass the size test.

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In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.