Feeling the loss of your PR agency? Why you can (and should) still go home again

by | Nov 5, 2020 | Analysis, Public Relations

I love talking to my clients. It’s why I do what I do: I get to work with great people, who are at interesting companies, doing genuinely innovative things, and have compelling stories that we get to help share with the world. When my phone rings or an email comes in from a client contact asking for a quick one-on-one, I jump at it; I love those conservations. Or maybe I should say, lovedthose conversations.

As was true for many businesses, the first few months of 2020 were tough. Clients would get in touch with me to say COVID was pushing them to quickly make a choice they otherwise didn’t want to take. Those calls and emails I used to love getting, I started to dread. There were a handful of conversations, more than anyone would want to have, that started the same way: “We need to cut back because of COVID.”

Amid a historic pandemic and recession this year, many businesses had to make sudden cuts to their spending, and marketing and PR budgets—including those for agencies—made for quick and easy targets for those cuts. As difficult as that was for us to hear and plan accordingly, I also appreciate how seriously difficult it was for our clients, too. When you have strong relationships that go back years—based on both a friendly personal rapport and a work ethic that delivered results time and time again—nobody wants to put it on hold for financial reasons outside their control.

But here’s the good news

If sudden, COVID-related financial pressures disrupted your agency relationship, and you’ve since seen a major underperformance in your press coverage, content creation, social engagement, and general ability to get your story out there, keep this in mind: you can always go home again. It’s your former agency that knows you best, that knows your brand and voice inside and out, has a proven record of media wins and compelling content and innovative social strategies that strengthened your company. Times are still tough, but if you’ve found that you can continue to thrive in this moment and have the budget to spare to bring your agency back onboard, even in just a project capacity, you can. And you should! It’s hard to replicate that trust anywhere else.

A few stories of how and why some former clients realized they needed agency support

We had one client that left very suddenly, citing a major reduction to their marketing budget because of COVID, which forced them to reduce or pause their agency relationships. But that financial crunch didn’t stop a new problem that cropped up afterward: a significant drop off in media and social activity, and a pipeline of upcoming major announcements that they needed PR support for. Their current path was unsustainable, and they needed a trusted partner that they could turn to quickly, had an immediate understanding of their business and technology, and required no learning curve. And that was (still) us. We know their business inside and out, so when they talked to us about returning for a project, we knew we had the expertise, the media reach, and the content chops to hit the ground running and deliver fast results—both supporting their immediate goals and proving our value to the executives who made the decision to pause agency work just a few months prior.

And it worked! Now that one-off project has evolved into a series of projects—followed by a 2021 retainer—that’s flexible to their budget needs without compromising on the work we can do.

Here’s another example: an AI company who had been a client of ours for two years told us they needed to hit pause, again because of COVID, with no specifics on when they might be able to restart our work together. That, however, didn’t last very long. A few months later, they had a need arise that required our help: supporting a significant new product announcement that would be a key opportunity to drive PR, and overall momentum for their business, in a major growth vertical for them. We had the press relationships and the familiarity with their space and business to make a bigger splash with this news, and that’s exactly what we did. We got the job done, and it was because we proved yet again how well we understand them, how much they can trust our work, and how much our work fuels their overall comms momentum, that they’ve returned to a full retainer with us again.

I could go on with more stories like these, but here’s the bottom line: I totally understand why a moment of cash-crunching would force businesses to suddenly hit the brakes on their PR agencies so that they could find some savings ASAP. But as we’ve seen, business just doesn’t stop because of COVID: you still need to keep talking to press, putting out news announcements and products, creating compelling new thought leadership content, engaging social media strategies, and fine tuning your brand messaging for maximum impact with customers and media. If anything, the dire economic straits we’ve seen in 2020 make it more essential than ever to keep doing these things, keep innovating, and keep getting your message out there.

And who knows you better, has proven their success more capably, can hit the ground running faster and has a time-tested rapport that you can trust and lean on, than the agency that you had invested in (and that had likewise invested in you)? Finances change and markets go up and down, but trusted partners who are invested in your story, and have the creative channels and skills to communicate that story to get the wins you need, are hard to come by. Luckily, you don’t need to look too far back to find them.

Cheryl Gale
Cheryl is President and co-founder of March Communications and has over 20 years’ experience helping technology and innovation brands of all sizes move the needle with campaigns that drive brand awareness and sales, all while creating a collaborative, innovative, and inspirational environment at March.