What 20 years of agency life has taught me

By Sharon Brigden, owner/director, SLBPR.

PR has seen more trends than the back catalogues of Vogue. If one thing is constant in communications, it is the propensity for change. So how does one navigate such chaos and enjoy longevity in the industry? This year marks 20 years of agency life and here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the last two decades.

In no particular order:

PR is about relationships – make as many as you can with as many people as you can. Be nice – don’t be a dick – which should be a life rule anyway. You never know where people will pop up in the future. Always, always make friends with the people who work on reception – they know everything that goes on in the building – think Peggy Olsen gifting the telephonists in Mad Men!

I know those of us who are more mature moan about younger staff not picking up the phone enough, but I don’t actually mind how staff build relationships with journalists or influencers as long as they build them. I encourage WhatsApp and Insta Messaging if they prefer that. I’m not keen on sending out mail merge style press releases – I’d rather choose a smaller pool of media and target individually as I think ultimately you get better results.

Nothing replaces face to face meetings, and this has become more apparent during lockdown and social isolation. Face to face allows you to go off at tangents in a way that we don’t seem to do on Zoom/Meets etc. It’s these tangents that strengthen relationships and generate the best ideas.

I also miss just being inspired by the world around me – travelling across the country, seeing new places, business etc – although I have started doing that more again now.

Do your due diligence on clients. I know it’s obvious, but we’ve been shafted a couple of times by clients who have duly signed a contract and paid the first invoice and then we have to fight with them to get payments, despite them telling us how great we are.

If a potential client bad mouths their past agency, and it’s one I respect, I always call them to find out their side of the story. It’s definitely saved us from entering to a relationship doomed from the start.

It is okay to sack a client. I know this splits opinion but unless you are desperate for the money (and we’ve all been there) you sometimes just have to accept it’s a bad agency/client fit.

It’s no one’s fault – it just happens. We were once hired because of our reputation for being disruptive and innovative and then the client proceeded to rip all the creativity out of every plan and project we worked on. None of the team wanted to work on the account, we all dreaded attending client events and obviously the relationship broke down until we were ‘not renewed’.

It was one of my worst business decisions not to have confronted the issue earlier and suggest we were not the right agency for them.

Equally don’t feel you have to work for every potential client that comes your way, especially if their ethics don’t match yours. I’ve turned down companies in the past as I didn’t think they operate with a diversity policy that matches ours.

As an industry we are part of the supply chain and so clients should also be holding us to account.

Get a good chair! During lockdown I sometimes had hours where I didn’t move because a government ruling meant we were inundated by national media requests for our client, the National Hair & Beauty Federation, and felt like my behind had welded to the seat. Also teach your children to bring you wine! Morning runs and yoga stopped me seizing up completely!

Moral is – look after yourself otherwise you are no use to anyone else.

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