July 19, 2010

It’s been busy and optimism is certainly in the air – especially at 110 Cherry Street. We’ve heard from a lot of interesting companies lately who want to turn up the volume on their PR efforts; this is great news for everyone. While the companies/products are different, most of the challenges aren’t. Typically what we hear is: company recently closed funding and wants to make a indelible impression at launch – or – holiday 2010 is around the corner and they want to ensure their new widget is a top seller – or – the ______ space is really heating up and they want to be associated with the stories on _______. But of all the conversations I’ve had there is one that really stood-out, and it wasn’t because of the aforementioned reasons; it was because of Buffy and Skippy. In fact Buffy and Skippy seem to come-up quite frequently – they’ve really made a name for themselves. Love or hate them, and most don’t love them, Buffy and Skippy are part of the PR ecosystem. And you know what else? They are always happy, as evident in their emails with things like this ๐Ÿ™‚ ร‚ and this !. Here is how Buffy and Skippy came to my attention last week.

I received a call from a very cool company in San Francisco doing some really cool stuff, funded by some really cool people, and run by really cool executives. During the conversation the topic of “what we need and what we don’t” came up. The needs were basic – but the “don’t” was hilarious. The one thing this really cool company doesn’t want is Buffy or Skippy. And without any further explanation I knew exactly what, ร‚ or I should say who was being described. Poor Buffy and Skippy – they try so hard to please. Let’s take a look at how Buffy and Skippy have made their way into so many agencies and why these well-meaning young people are the subject of such intense hostility.

It’s no surprise that in a national survey earlier this year PR was rated the 8th most stressful job in America. The reasons are varied: client demands, an always-on expectation, pressure from board members, competitive threats, shrinking publications, hourly deadlines, etc. ร‚ What this means is, for some, the PR game is just too tough and they quit – hence the industry’s turnover issue. So in order to service clients, most agencies, especially the big ones who take care of Microsoft and HP, need to constantly hire fresh new talent who want to do well, but know very little: this is Buffy and Skippy. Don’t get me wrong, the problem is not Buffy and Skippy – the problem is when Buffy and Skippy are put in positions they shouldn’t be – this is when things get dangerous.

While I was humored by the conversation last week it also made me think seriously about this whole Buffy and Skippy issue, especially since I hear about it frequently from companies who are looking to leave their PR firm. The story is always the same: senior folks came to the new biz pitch, then Buffy and Skippy took over a few months after the agency won the business. This is likely why the question “who will work on my account?” is showing up more in RFPs. This issue, while fun on the surface, is really quite serious and really comes down to setting proper expectations, all the way around. Should Buffy and Skippy run an account without help from their more experienced teammates? No. Is there a place for them in the business – and can they play a critical role? Yes. The problems surface when agencies don’t set the right expectations to the client about who will be on the account or they try to shield Buffy and Skippy from the new biz prospect, only to bring them in when the coast is clear.

Buffy and Skippy are not completely exonerated either. Sometimes they like to pretend they know more than they do, and when duty calls they’re unable to perform due to lack of experience or the inability to think on their feet. Personally I find Buffy and Skippy the most damaging when they decide they’ve had enough of the agency world (it’s too tough) and they go in-house on the client side. Here they’re able to pose as an experienced PR pro due to the time spent on the agency side, but really they’re no different than someone who sterialized sugical tools and now claims they’re a surgeon. Ill equipped to make decisions, these rouge Buffy and Skippy’s can become a nightmare for an agency and ultimately a liability for the company.

Buffy and Skippy aren’t going anywhere, nor should they. They’ve always played an important role in agencies and after all, we all had to start somewhere. If anything Buffy and Skippy provide a looking glass into one of the largest problems in the PR world: the difficulty finding and hiring exceptional PR folks who actually do the work – not just take credit for it. So whether you are a Buffy or Skippy, or a client trying to avoid them, let’s all agree to get along, do great work and minimize the bullshit.

Yes Buffy and Skippy, you can use that word ๐Ÿ™‚


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