Stop, Drop and Roll

Businessman crossing his fingers behind his backI sit here today a recently unemployed public relations professional who is giving serious consideration to a career change.  I graduated college in 2005 and immediately entered the biz.  I had high hopes for myself and took every experience for what it was worth, learning every moment and dedicating myself and my career to the agency and clients at hand.  I loved it and have loved working in this field for over five years.

Recently I’ve made a few career moves to learn more, give myself more opportunities and resources, and also to make more money.  I’ve gone from a small agency of two, to a mid-sized agency of 25+ and I’ve noticed a few things along the way that I thought I’d share from my perspective.

I want to make more money, we all do.  But, I don’t want to make more money and love my job less.  Sounds like a simple statement that we can probably all share and support but in the public relations business, I’m not sure at my ripe age of 28, that I can see this as a reality.  With every agency move, I have indeed made more money.  But I also see things happening within the larger agencies that I strongly disapprove of and disagree with.

I pride myself on client communications and managing expectations.  I strongly believe that we can only, as PR pros, do a good job – if our clients think we’ve done a good job.  So instead of promising my clients that they’ll be on the TODAY show, I promise them that I will do everything I can to make that happen and will shower them with more realistic placements until that happens.  My method has always resulted in the clients being happy with the coverage I’ve delivered and a mutual understanding that it takes hard work and a little luck.

The bigger the agency – the more promises I see being made and in the long run being broken, resulting in unhappy clients and a loss in revenue to the agency, which we all know results in a lot of high anxiety and tensions among the entire agency staff (equals unhappy working environments for many).  I can’t sit by and continue to watch this happen without stopping for at least a second and screaming publicly to STOP IT!  Public Relations is above all else, an industry of people and effective communications.

If the agencies can’t communicate what they’re realistically capable of, how are we to convince our clients that we can communicate their messages effectively also?

We owe it to our clients and to ourselves to be honest and to successfully manage expectations on all ends, so that everyone has the ability to WIN.  If Joe Schmo is knocking down your door with a widget that he swears can tell the future and is destined to be the next big thing, and he happens to have a million dollars that he’s willing to give you to go out and get him on the TODAY show – I strongly urge the agency higher ups to stop, drop, and roll.  Yes the millions are tempting, your agency needs it, this is a recession.  But is it really going to be worth it to you to accept this man’s money when you know in your heart of hearts that no one is going to buy that this guy’s widget can tell the future?  Instead of accepting his money and giving him some form of commitment – perhaps you might be more ethically suited to say, “I’m sorry Joe, but I don’t feel this is the right fit for our agency, best of luck.”

With that honest and reasonable response, you just protected your integrity, your agency’s integrity and the sanity of everyone on your staff.  Now your employees can sleep tight knowing that their leaders are not blinded by money and actually have a vision for the company’s future, which in the end – keeps the ship together and keeps everyone at that agency motivated to come to work, and do their best for the team, because they know their management is standing behind them, their work, and their capabilities.  Most of all they learn, that it’s not about the money, it’s about the job, and a job well done.

To sum this up – ethics and integrity play a big role in our everyday decisions and actions within this industry – we already have a bad wrap as spin-doctors, etc…  I’d like to think that there’s a future for us publicists who just want to do genuine, wholesome work while being honest.  I’d like to think that we can make a decent living without having to sell our souls for the all mighty dollar.  Hopefully I’m right.

Jennifer Cosgrove grew up in Warwick, NY and graduated from Champlain College in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations & Media Communication.  Out of college, Jennifer worked for her local newspaper as a journalist and editorial assistant while simultaneously getting her feet wet at a small public relations agency.  Over the years she has worked at various boutique agencies and represented a wide variety of clients including Adventures in Travel Expo, The LOHAS Forum, The Smucker’s Stars on Ice Tour, The Wiggles,, SunDurance Energy and more.  Jennifer’s interests include wine tastings, gourmet foods, music, travel and pop culture.  To reach Jennifer you can email her or follow her on Twitter.

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  • Spot-on points, Jennifer, and really an insightful read. Thank you for sharing some of your own insight and experiences. I think you make two key points in this post:

    1. That above all, our profession should encompass ethical practices that are done within a pragmatic scope. The unfortunate side of things is that there are some agencies out there that will promise clients the moon, only to deliver what is far more realistic (and still often great service), but doesn’t fit within the clients’ expectations, largely because the agency artificially inflated those expectations. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that I, along with many others, agree with you must stop.

    2. I think this is starting to happen more in the profession, but the sooner we move client expectations past mere placements, buzz and all of that, and actually help them understand the TRUE value of public relations – reputation enhancement, executive visibility, brand building, etc. – that’s when our profession will really reach its peak of high reputation and respect within the broader business community. I think we’re getting there, and it’s going to take more folks like yourself pointing out some of the flaws in the system to help others see the light.

    Thanks again for this excellent post.

  • Thank you for your post Jen, you have seriously taken the words right out of my mouth. I am in the same boat as you, and agree with your points. Well done and good luck with everything.

  • JQ

    Wow! Reminds me of Jerry McGuire – go girl – go!

  • Gsideman

    You’re pretty insightful for having only been in the business for a few years. I admire you so much for realizing your ethics and responsibilities as a PR pro before insincere practitioners sucked you in.

    The industry is only as good as the people who shape it each day. You may not make bundles of money right off the bat, but if you stick to your instincts and values, you will find the right situation for you. I, too, cringed at what I heard in some offices and at that time, decided to go with my gut as a PR counsel. Even when times are challenging, I can sleep well each night knowing I’ve been forthright with clients about the value of what they have to share with the public and my work with them. If a potential client prefers a big talker, let them go. You’ll be glad you did.

  • I understand (and sympathize) with your concern that some PR professionals provide their clients with unrealistic promises regarding media placements. However, I disagree that this aspect of media relations is unique to those at large agencies. This is something many PR practitioners face and, regardless of where they work, should overcome with thoughtful, strategic recommendations for clients and their communication campaigns.

  • Jennifer, I think you read my mind. Looking for monetary growth on the fast track is not worth sacrificing your happiness and personal integrity as a PR professional. Much of our job is about setting expectations, whether that be with clients or with our own managers/directors/CEOs. In agency life you have two sets of bosses to make happy and it’s a constant balancing act.

    Coverage and placements should not always involve reaching for the stars and moon. Everyone wants to be on The Today Show or on the front page of the WSJ or NYT. Often, those are not the most effective placements. What is important is the client’s end goal. Are they looking to drive more sales leads? (trade publications may serve best). Are they looking to boost brand recognition and SEO? (blogs and social media may serve best). Are they looking for thought leadership positioning? (conference speaking opportunities and bylines may serve best).

    Whatever the case, protect your own reputation as a PR pro because as the final curtain falls, you want people to throw roses at you, not garbage.