10 Clues Your PR Pro is Nothing But Show


I’ve read several posts recently on distinguishing the smart social media marketing professionals from the wannabes. It’s great to have guides likes these in a space that is relatively new in the grand scheme of things.

The social media sphere isn’t the only place where this is needed, though. PR more generally has a long list of fine folks who help move the industry forward and, unfortunately, a long list of those who help move the industry a step backward.

So I’m passing along 10 clues that your PR pro may be nothing but show. If you’re experiencing any of these from someone on your internal team or from an outside consultant, it may be time to cut ties.

1. They never bring new ideas to the table.
2. Their answer for everything is “let’s put a press release on the newswire.”
3. They think every story idea you want them to pitch is brilliant.
4. They never push back or challenge you. They just take marching orders.
5. They wouldn’t know a measurable goal if it slapped them in the face – hard.
6. They only e-pitch reporters and their phones are collecting dust.
7. Their clever social media strategy starts and stops at “we should get a Facebook page.”
8. Their reason for being in the PR field is “I’m a people person.”
9. They define PR mistakenly by one of its tools (PR is bigger than media relations or events, like social media is bigger than blogs.)
10. They don’t ask you what your business goals are so they can work to align PR goals against them.

What did I miss? What clues you in that the person across the table is a sub-par PR professional?

*Image from Brian Snelson.

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41 responses to “10 Clues Your PR Pro is Nothing But Show

  1. Great post. This should be a real eye-opener to a lot of folks in the PR world.

  2. They don’t integrate their efforts or align messaging.


    They think anything that happens online is “viral”

  3. Great post. I’d add two things:

    First, be wary of PR “pros” who believe clips are the answer to every situation. The “clips, clips, clips” mentality drives me bonkers!

    Also, building on your idea of understanding business goals, if you’re doing PR for a sales organization (i.e., one that exists by selling a product or a service), the PR person must understand the sales process. When strategically incorproated into the sales cycle, PR can be a very valuable tool. And, the PR person is that much more valuable to the company if they understand how their efforts are linked to the sales team.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    Heather (@prtini)

  4. We’re evaluating PR firms right now and I can say that it becomes frightfully obvious who has it going on and who doesn’t. We’ve definitely had some entertaining conversations.

    We’re a smart company and we want a smart PR firm. We don’t to be pandered to or play it safe. We want to be pushed and challenged and truly make a difference.

  5. 8. Their reason for being in the PR field is “I’m a people person.”

    I always roll my eyes when I hear that. I think to myself, seriously? You have or will be asked why are you in PR about 1,000 times throughout your life and that is your answer!?

    I always wonder what that person’s day to day schedule is like. It must be filled with a lot of free time.

  6. Fantastic post!

    I would add that they don’t set goals or deadlines, don’t return your calls and e-mails, and make “front page of the New York Times” promises.


    A Few Others to Add:

    It takes half a day to get a call back from your agency/firm/contact.

    You find yourself asking, “Now, WHY are we paying them ‘x dollars’ per month…??”

    You get called out by such sites as http://badpitch.blogspot.com/

    You can’t get a straight answer out of em’

  8. I heartily second #10. Social media is cool and may be an end in itself, but not in business. Business has its own goals and ends. If a consultant doesn’t ask you FIRST about your business goals, run away.

    I suggesta adding:
    A. They call themselves a “Social Media Guru, Expert, Jedi” or the like at every opportunity. Really, how many of us can be “experts” in this nascent field? It’s brand new and we haven’t even defined it fully.

    B. They think following online celebrities like Leo Laporte, Amber Macarthur, Jason Calacanis, gives them some sort of expertise. I love these guys too – they’re my Britneys, but being a celebrity admirer does not make me a social media expert.

  9. Great list!

    I especially think #8 and #9 should be in some sort of guide for interviewing in this field. I’ve spoken with many intern candidates over the years who have made statements such as these. Granted those were young professionals just getting started in the field, but still a bit of a turn-off.

  10. Great post. Unfortunately there are many in the industry that feel a release or something else can be a simply silver bullet.

    Another one to add could be complacency or being happy with getting traction from a release.

  11. David,
    I would add that they make guarantees about the kind or amount of media coverage they will get for their clients. Goals are one thing. Guarantees are another.

  12. Nice work David. NOW how am I going to get a new client?! 😉


  13. You did have some fun with this one, didn’t you David.

    I second Heather’s comment about clips. To an extent, that is important, but it’s much more about business results.

    Another I would add that you’ve touched on: The consultant says “an integrated approach? What’s that?” Pretty clear indicator.

    Also, gotta add something around energy. If your PR consultant joins the meeting, says next to nothing and stares at the wall for an hour, probably not a great sign. We’re a fun, engaged, outspoken group after all. Aren’t we?

  14. I’m really glad you put #1 in the #1 slot.

    So much of our industry thrives on creativity and I think that can be a huge distinguishing factor. If I was a client, I’d look past the PPT and hyperbole and drill down to the hard notch creative ideas being put on the table. Are they workable and realistic? Will these ideas help me achieve my company’s goals?

    Also, if you’re an intern or junior staffer looking to get some footing at an agency, put your thinking cap on. Nothing will impress senior staff more than if you roll into a brainstorm having already spent a couple hours flushing out some solid creative.

  15. Great additions!

    @Heather W. – great addition re: understanding the sales cycle. That knowledge will probably change your entire strategy or, at the least, your timing.

    @Dan – I cringe every time I hear or read about social media experts. A colleague called ME that yesterday and I almost threw up. Instead I politely told them I’m no where near even swami status and that I’m learning a mile a minute like the rest of us.

    @Jen – You’ll still get clients because you DON’T do any of these, I’m sure.

  16. Some others for you David that I’ve encountered.

    They think they know more about your business then you do without ever taking the time to learn.

    They claim to have all these key press relationships that never materialize.

  17. Hi David-

    To expand on #10: PR is a mutual relationship. As important as it is for a potential client to feel comfortable with a firm they are looking to hire, it is also important that a new client fits in with a PR team and their current roster.

    Someone looking for PR, and particularly a campaign with a boutique agency, should make sure that a firm’s resources are not only there, but that they won’t be stretched too thin by similar clients and their similar needs.

    Inquire accordingly!


  18. eisenmanagementgroup

    absolutely spot on, David. perfect…

  19. Excellent post, David. Spot on. How about if the focal point of their “strategy” is to go pay big bucks to a celebrity to be a “credible third party voice?”

  20. I’ve been in PR for nearly 20 years and think you have a great list – – two more come to mind:

    * They don’t take the time to explain the current media environment (i.e. reporter’s interests and what’s considered news-worthy) for your industry.

    * They don’t let you, as the client, know in advance what they’ll need from you for a best shot at getting coverage (i.e. access to execs for interviews, customer quotes, visual aids, etc.)

    – Katie Adams

  21. The tendency toward “echolalia”…

    Def: “…..the often pathological repetition of what is said by other people as if echoing them”.

    Absent content competence, what other option do they have?

  22. This is very helpful from a student standpoint. I will keep those points in mind as I begin my career. Thanks!

  23. Not following the conversation and then jumping in with total arrogance is my biggest pr peeve. If you think you’re an ‘expert’, then you probably aren’t.

  24. Sorry, one more comment I forgot to add earlier. Another “clue” is when the PR pro uses nothing but PR lingo/jargon without attempt to explain it to the client. That’s not how it should work, and it’s a sign you should look for another practitioner.

  25. Collectively, we could put together a list of 100 on this topic:) I would say #10 is probably one of the most important and many PR pretenders look at media coverage as their end result.

    I also love the pretenders that spout off their rolodex of media contacts as the reason you should be hiring them. Certainly important, but anyone that leads with these as their differentiator, probably doesn’t have many.

    #6 is huge as well. You either love or hate picking up the phone to reach out to contacts – I’d bet most (probably 80%) PR professionals aren’t comfortable doing so.

    Once again, Mr. Mullen leads a worthwhile conversation:) – Thanks!

  26. As someone who works in PR, let me add to the list:

    – Promises to “make it go viral.” Really? The interest of others can be forced upon your whim?

    – Promises of swag, spiff or great tickets to events via your other clients.

    – And I completely agree with comments by others about coming into a meeting already knowing everything there is to know about someone else’s pride and joy.

    Not all of us are that way, promise!!
    Mandy Vavrinak @mvavrinak

  27. Great post, David. I’ll add ideas, some of which have been at least partially covered by others…

    -They don’t take the time to learn about your business. As a PR pro I feel like I need to know enough to be part of my client’s team, instead of being this outsider who always needs things explained to them.

    -They can give you an estimate for your first project with them after you spend only five minutes on the phone.

  28. This is a great post, and a great wake up call for all PR pro’s to be more creative, taking actions, and think outside the box. It’s so important for folks in PR not to simply be doing the traditional…. step 1 is realizing this, step 2… is what will make the difference. Thanks for some great thoughts!

  29. Tom took mine – endless repetition of ‘viral.’ Or worse, ‘we can guarantee 100,000 views on YouTube!’


  30. Excellent list, #7 is so true

  31. I dislike press releases as it is – #2 is paramount for me. A PR “pro” who equates communicating with journalists with blasting generic press releases (for shame!) is a pet peeve of mine.

    Finding relevant stories and angles, and sending a brief pitch to an appropriate reporter (gotta love Google) is more “pro” methodology to me. Go to the writers with GOOD material – not the newswire.


  32. Great article! I had a really bad pr experience. She was a friend of the new GM at my company. No attention to detail, always making excuses for mistakes instead of owning them and I never felt like we mattered to her ( she was always on the phone with someone more important and made sure I knew it as well as name dropping left and right.) When I did communicate with her I was verbally abused. When tried to point out these issues to her for the sake of the working relation ship, she blew me off. I started documenting her mistakes and communications after that point in time. I eventually turned it all over to my boss. Now I am doing her job for us. I may not have the background or connections, but I am tech savy and I used the whole thing as a learning experience and I am making it work. I am really thankful to the Twitter community. It really brought me up to speed and helped me make the connections that I needed to be successful. 😀

  33. Someone I know told me their client philosophy and I think it hits on the passion component that separates the good PR pros from the medicore.

    “I take great joy in my clients’ success in their businesses. I share in their suffering, and consider it the highest honor when my clients consider me an integral part of their business rather than just a professional service provider. ”

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  35. Nice work, David. I’d add:

    11. Doesn’t know when to draw a line under something and move on – “we’ll do another round of pitching on this one…”
    12. Dumps a binder of clippings on your desk instead of analyzing them.

  36. Great post, and great comments, too.

    Here are some others:
    * They don’t have any long-term client relationships.
    * They act as if you should be glad they’re working on your account. (This was more prevalent during the dot-com boom era.)
    * They’re more interested in promoting themselves than their clients — or use their clients to promote their agency.
    * They don’t care about strategy.
    * They come up with big ideas, but aren’t detailed enough to execute them.

  37. Agree w/Mr. Blatt that this list could easily top 100 items but most organizations are smarter than this, especially given the renewed scrutiny on measurables in a budget constrained environment. As PR has evolved, so has the savvy of companies looking into agency partnerships. Those that fall victim to overpromising and stagnancy should not become jaded toward the PR profession but smarter in their next evaluation process.

  38. 11. They don’t understand the technologies – at least at a high level – that a driving the SM revolution and how they are important to an effective PR strategy.

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