The Value of Independence: The 5 Myths of Giant PR Firms
In the spirit of Independence Day, we recently found ourselves reflecting on what independence means, but from our perspectives as PR agency owners.
Fifteen plus years ago, we each took leaps of faith, leaving the halls of PR conglomerate employers and starting our own niche public relations firms, Spectrum Science Communications and Pollock Communications. Now as top health/science and food communications agencies, we are proud of what we’ve built over the years, and can’t help but list a number of misconceptions we’ve observed within the PR world about working with small-to-midsized independent firms versus bigger corporations.
Quite often, it seems, larger agencies are viewed as more capable, in a sense, due to their sheer size. So we both wonder: Does massive really matter?
Below we bring to light persistent myths that circulate among our fellow PR agency professionals, some on the client side – including procurement folks, so let’s set the record straight:
5 Myths Of Giant PR firms:
1. Myth: You need a large PR firm to conduct large-scale national or global campaigns. Smaller, independent brands don’t have the bandwidth to execute large programs, and therefore, should only take on smaller projects.
Fact: Many independent firms quite often do some very heavy lifting. We are proud of our practices and place the highest emphasis on client relations. Independent agencies provide the same amount of support, if not more, to maximize our clients’ campaigns to their fullest potential. Plus, we work well with our clients’ other communications partners, and our own independent global networks such as GLOBALHealthPR. If small isn’t right-sized, then why do the larger firms create so-called conflict shops or pseudo-boutique firms?
2. Myth: Only large firms can bring leading expertise into play. By virtue of sheer size, the bigger agencies offer more established connections with the media and third parties.
Fact: Independent agencies understand the complex dynamics of good relationships. We build connections with the people who can impact our clients’ businesses based on what they think or say. People at larger agencies, often heavily overworked, may not have the time to build rich, in-depth connections. One of our stronger suits as independent firms: We find the time because we own greater, local control of our time. Plus, firms such as Spectrum and Pollock that specialize exclusively in health care and food unquestionably offer world class expertise not always found at mixed-interest firms.
3. Myth: With large companies, there’s safety in numbers. Working with bigger firms seems like the more secure choice.
Fact: Size doesn’t necessarily mean quality. Or stability. Or the continuity of your account team. While you may feel confident in selecting a big agency, you won’t necessarily get the attention from its leadership and enjoy the depth of talent you get by working with an independent agency. Our clients remain our first priority, and we consistently provide the creativity, capabilities and results our national and global scale clients need. We are solid, stable businesses that offer high staff retention rates.
4. Myth: Large firms are better-equipped to understand and execute in important, developing, new media sectors.
Fact: Many independent firms already do it all, because we have to. We ensure our employees are well rounded in every facet of public relations. We breed communicators with multiple specialties. While bigger agencies may create smaller, specialty sectors, independent PR agencies encourage and nurture diversity in the communications skills of our people. We develop a combination of the best tools, including social media, advocacy, media relations and everything in between. When we don’t own the best expertise internally, we don’t hesitate to partner with other, best-in-class independent resources. We are not beholden to entrenched, specialty departments or sister companies that are hungry for additional billings.
5. Myth: Large firms provide the best value or economies of scale. It stands to reason you should expect better value by working with a larger firm. Right?
Fact: Scale doesn’t really apply in professional services. Not in law, not really in accounting, and certainly not in PR. The public relations profession is neither a commodity nor a retail business such as Costco. (If you can get Costco quality and prices from our larger competitors, go for it.)
If there were an app that commoditized PR services, it would have been built by now. PR is still and always will be a creative, human resource-driven business.
Based on hourly rates alone, smaller independents are typically a greater value in nearly every single category. (2011 PR agency firm industry data indicate that firms billing in excess of $25 million annually reported higher staff billing rates for every job title from account executive on up to CEO, as compared to firms with less revenue.) Free from the board of directors-driven, ROI-focused mindset of a large firm, we smaller independents own the flexibility to invest in staff dedicated to client service and delivery.
Finally, you may have noticed that many large agencies create smaller, arms-length affiliates to compete directly with the small to mid-sized firm. Why? Because of the perception that smaller is more creative or innovative? Or, maybe imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery after all, and that size does matter.
As independent PR agency owners, we are proud of our respective reputations for high quality service and reach that we’ve built since our respective foundings.
On this Independence Day, we’re also celebrating our business independence and the benefits it brings, from working with the people we enjoy and better serving our clients. We happily remain true to these declarations.
Louise Pollock started Pollock Communications in 1991 in order to provide clients with top level strategic counsel and advice. Her company has developed award-winning strategic marketing campaigns for some of the world’s most iconic companies in the healthcare, health & wellness, nutrition and food arenas. Louise has implemented communication campaigns on a national and global scale. And has helped start-up companies reach national distribution through the creative use of public relations tactics. Louise values her independence.
John J. Seng, founder and CEO of Spectrum, is a seasoned public relations professional, having worked for three PR firms owned by holding companies since 1979. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, Spectrum ranks among the top three health care-only independent PR firms in the United States and is the leading health care-only PR office in Washington, DC. John co-founded GLOBALHealthPR in 2001, the world’s only health-only partnership of independent public relations firms.
Published: July 5, 2012 By: