The Secret Worries of a PR Firm Boss

Disagreement in OfficeMel Brooks once famously observed that “it’s good to be the king.” It’s probably also pleasant to be Bill Gates or Michael Arrington. I’d even guess that some folks think it’s pretty good to be me.

What is it like to have responsibility for running a PR firm?  You might be able to imagine the upside, but there are struggles too.  Here are some of the pain points — and some of the issues that folks like me think about on a daily basis:

  • Public Relations Budgets Can Be Small, So We Need to Position Ourselves More Broadly: We’re not the “big cheese” in marketing services – the advertising industry is (at least for now). Advertising  agencies command huge budgets and the attention of CMOs. Maybe the digital explosion will truly change that, but we have some work to do first. In the meantime, our job is to reach beyond PR wherever we can and demonstrate our ability to seamlessly integrate with other areas of marketing.
  • Employee Turnovers Force Cultural Changes: Every time we lose an employee, we lose a piece of who we are as a firm. This can be hard to live through, especially since the ones who are left behind have to pick up the slack. However, if you hang in there, you do get the benefits of seeing how new employees can infuse and improve the culture.
  • A Larger Bonus For You May Mean Less for Someone Else: There are many well deserving employees who ask for significant raises and perks at review time. Here’s the problem. We can’t afford to give everyone exactly what they want. And if we manage to pull it off one year, we are unlikely to be able to do it the next year.  Simply put, there are trade-offs involved when you try to share equitably.
  • Good Firms Are Not a Dictatorship: In our firm, we don’t issue commands. Instead, we hope to mount a convincing case for many of the major decisions we make. Employees get to have input. This helps morale, but it means that decision-making takes longer than the group wants it to take.
  • Really Talented Individuals May Not Like Each Other: The only asset that a PR firm owns is their employees. But what happens when the best media relations professional can’t connect with the account manager? Simply put, it gets messy. Since we can’t solve personality conflicts, we try to broker compromises. This is time consuming and usually involves hurt feelings. Worst of all, it can trickle down and affect other team members. This is uncomfortable, but a fact of life.
  • We are Always Anxious About Losing a Client: We’re very lucky to have low client turn-over. Most of our big clients have been with us for 10+ years.  Still, each year will bring some losses – that’s a fact of life for any agency. Very often the relationship ends for reasons we can’t control, such as budget cuts or a new client leader or a change in marketing strategy. But no matter why we lose them, it’s our job as leaders to constantly hunt for replacement clients. The hunt never ends, and in times of economic instability, it gets even harder. We can’t afford to take our eye off the ball if we want to keep paying you.

So why am I sharing this with you? In order for us to work well together, we have to try harder to understand each other – and the challenges we each face. That’s true whether we are the boss, the seasoned employee or the new hire. We need a common understanding and language in order to help each other, our firms and our industry grow.

Let’s start now. Were you surprised by what I shared? What are your secret worries as an employee or a leader?

Elizabeth Sosnow is a Managing Director with BlissPR, a B2B based public relations firm in New York and Chicago. Elizabeth leads BlissPR’s social media strategy development, helping clients and colleagues assess and maximize customer engagement via evolving communications tools. You can also find her blogging at http://blog.blisspr.com/
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