I DID THAT

June 12, 2013

Last week I met with some really smart people doing some really amazing things that I’ll have the privilege of sharing with you as the story develops. During our chat, the age-old discussion about big vs. small – PR agencies – came up, and we had a good conversation about the differences.  The CEO had only worked with a behemoth agency at his previous behemoth company, and was keen to understand what the experience would be like working with a smaller group.

This is a conversation I welcome and one of my favorites alongside talk of English Bulldogs, Harley Davidsons, cool new tech gadgets, politics, and music trivia.  It’s interesting to hear the experiences folks have with other firms, big, small, or somewhere in-between.  I wonder how agencies come up with pricing models, like: “your monthly retainer is X but we’re going to bill you Y.”  Or how Bill, Megan, and Kelly are introduced as the team, but Steve, Peggy, and Charlotte end up as the team. Not that anything is wrong with Steve, Peggy, or Charlotte.  Well Charlotte is a little crazy, but that’s a different story. The point is PR agencies are made of people and people can be complicated, especially when working in the confines of a big, bureaucratic system where they must conform or be cast out. Also, big begets big which means most people working inside large PR factories don’t need to get creative when they approach the media; after all how much explanation is required when pitching Microsoft Office or Xbox? Right.

So… back to my conversation with the smart people.  Of all the differences between big and small agencies and the type of people that work at both, I believe the most significant differentiator is the ability to say I DID THAT.  The I DID THAT moment comes when a piece of coverage hits and the PR pro knows, unequivocally, had it not been for their work that coverage would not have appeared. To me, that is the mammoth difference between the David and the Goliath agencies. Big PR machines don’t know the joy of coverage craftsmanship; they lack the capacity to feel the sweet taste of victory that comes with placing a story, especially for a little-known start-up. There is an unexplainable sense of pride that comes from knowing that you, not the brand, not a sponsorship, not an ad-buy, and not any sort of leverage, were responsible for your client’s coverage win.  It’s sad to me that folks at big agencies don’t know what that feels like.

As I told my new CEO friend, big agencies are good when you need an army. But most companies don’t need an PR army – they just need a smart SEAL team to get the job done.

My $.02.

Howie

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