Kel Kelly

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Bad Agency Karma

August 28, 2009 10:27 AM

I live my life under the belief that “no deed goes unnoticed, no debt goes unpaid.” Simply translated this means doing good things will bring positive things into your world and being a dick will come back to haunt you, as life’s pendulum swings back and bitch-slaps you when you least expect it. Although I have no formal religion in my life, this guiding principle influences my actions in both my personal and professional worlds.

To say PR agencies have a bad reputation is an understatement. It’s unfortunate that the bad behavior of a few PR agencies/people has affected the reputation of an entire industry. We can sit around and whine about it or we can conduct ourselves in a manner that changes people’s perspectives.

I am going to put a big-ass, stinky turd on the table. The scenario goes something like this:

An agency puts financial growth ahead of everything: ethical behavior, employee happiness, client satisfaction, et.al. This agency chases new business like whore in Vegas chases a John. They trample over anyone and anything in their path, fiercely focused on the prize of landing a cache piece of new business — one that will somehow validate their importance as a playa’. They look like the teenage girl trying to come between a boy and his existing girlfriend. When the targeted client communicates they are happy with their existing agency, the agency on the hunt starts to sling mud to attempt to create fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about the client’s existing agency. Therein lies the biggest tragedy of all — in doing so the whore agency adds fuel to the fire of the negative perspective that exists within our industry. They become more of a PR-attacking terrorist than Michael Arrington could ever dream of being.

It’s time to stop the madness and get your self-centered, egotistical-driven ass on the high road. I suggest the following to ensure good karma:

  • Never — under any circumstances — try to come between an agency and a happy client. A happy client/agency relationship is good for our whole industry because that client now becomes a repeater and amplifier of how positive a PR agency experience can be.
  • Compete on results vs. trash talking. If you are in an agency review, scream to the high heavens about the great results you have delivered existing clients. Look to win the biz based on those results versus slamming your competitors. You are hurting everyone, including your own agency, when you verbally shit on a competitor. And remember, what goes around comes around — last I heard, getting shit on sucks.
  • Evolve your business. Web 2.0 has changed everything in the PR world and it’s fantastic news. Immerse yourself in it, so you can compete successfully based on the merits of your core competencies instead of acting like a ‘Ho by pimping yourself at the expense of a competitor. Moreover, evolve so these PR terrorists won’t have any more eff-ups to point to when they put us on the dirt-bag short list that includes child molesters and Michael Vick.
  • Proactively turn a prospect over to a competitor. Yes, you read that correctly. Try doing something completely selfless and something most businesses on the planet would never do. The good karma that flows from that single act will be overwhelming.
  • Although most agencies would never admit it, there are agencies they respect and admire. When you lose a piece of new biz to one of those great agencies, tell the client they made a great decision and that you would have hired that agency if you were in their shoes.
  • Let your agency’s reputation and the results you deliver drive new business to you versus chasing any tail you can get like a horny drunk right before last call. The model is simple: Deliver great results for your clients and they will refer other clients to you at a rate no full-time, competitor-bashing Biz Dev person could ever achieve.
  • Never act like the anonymous, industry-slamming, pussy “PR Veteran” did when commenting on a Silicon Alley Insider post about a PR agency. (His comment are #11 & #13). If you insist on slamming another agency have the balls to do it under your real name. The bad karma this dink weed will get as a result of his actions will leave his head spinning.
  • Evaluate your success on non-financial metrics like employee happiness and client satisfaction. As soon as you stop worshiping the alter of the almighty dollar, you will find ethical behavior becomes core to your DNA and good karma will be on your side.

Life is about karma. Even Earl figured that out. Our industry could use a few more Earls and a few less Joys.

What do you think?

Posted by Kel | in Featured, Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

15 Comments on “Bad Agency Karma”

  1. Jack Speranza Says:

    “Moreover, evolve so these PR terrorists won’t have any more eff-ups to point to when they put us on the dirt-bag short list that includes lawyers, child molesters and Michael Vick.”

    OUCH! I’m not overly fond of my former profession, but I do still have my ticket. We have some good guys, too, you know ;-)

    Unfortunately, you could change the title of this piece to “Bad ______ Karma” (fill in the blank as you deem fit). While it’s nice to envision more Earls and less Joys, I vote for finding ways for us Earls to band together more often (and let the Joys beat up on each other to their hearts content).

  2. Ben Carcio Says:

    Well said Kel, and I know K&P walks this walk. You’re advice goes beyond just PR, but into all aspects of business where there is a client vendor relationship. Above all else, my “no a$#hole” policy” still fits well. – BC

  3. Kel Says:

    jack, you absolutely do! i think pr professionals and lawyers get the same bad rap. i will be happy to call you earl any day of the week.

  4. Kel Says:

    ben, thanks for the props. i think you are right…your “no assholes” policy could be applied anyplace. maybe you should white label it. could be your next gig. haha!

  5. Larry Lawfer Says:

    I completely agree with your premise but may have chosen less colorful language. I also want to throw in the loyalty issue. There is less loyalty to a vendor who delivers great work than ever before. Business is sadly driven by price, immediacy, and the BS of which you speak above. This is something going on now and this too shall pass, but in the interim many good people are suffering. K&P is ethical which mirrors it’s principles and principals, but many others are not. The question then is what to do about that. Blog is one thing, living the ethical business life is another, but these actions don’t keep your doors open if people (those unethical many) are chipping away at your reputation and biting the ankles of your profession.

    In 28 years of delivering great content at an affordable price I have many clients who have stayed the course. I have far more that have come and gone, always looking for the next better deal, listened to the unethical competitor. Not working with assholes is a great approach, knowing who is an asshole is harder, especially at the beginning of a relationship. Being a one and done vendor for a client is not a way to build a business. In this scenerio you are always chasing the next job, not building client relationships. I think one of the hardest things to do is circle back on a relationship and find out why it didn’t work for them. Find out why you were one and done, find out who was talking about you and your work. This is much easier said than done. These calls are usually never answered honestly if they are answered at all. People don’t want to be honest.

    If success is the best revenge I have never really felt it. My favorite is when someone who trashed your work or reputation to gain advantage has to come back and ask for help. In these situations I so enjoy being professional and helpful…to me that is the best revenge. It was Heiddigger who wrote, “you can only determine for others by determining for yourself.” I say show the world in ever encounter what and who you are and what you stand for. Be satisfied with that, because you won’t hear it from outside very often. A good, or great job has to be it’s own reward. Karma is a concept and many people who have boatloads of bad karma are still stealing, cheating and telling lies. That is them, not you.

  6. Kel Says:

    larry, loyalty certainly is an interesting point. as you state, i think the economy is driving a lot of decisions based on lowest price and the one & done phenom. i love your comment on “knowing who is an asshole is harder.” unfortunately, sometimes that epiphany doesn’t happen until after the engagement has begun. i really believe that if someone chips away at my reputation enough that it would cause my agency to go under, then in the end that would lead me to a better place. sounds crazy, but the “all things happen for a reason” philosophy has never failed me once. the challenge is that sometimes the reason doesn’t reveal itself for over a year and the uncertainty can be unsettling.

    as for my colorful language, i am who i am and never pretend to be anything else….

  7. Larry Lawfer Says:

    I love you as you, there is only one of you and, you is great–language and all. One of the difficulty lies in the fact that everyone is now media, everyone is a writer and a videographer and a photographer and a pr person and a journalist, you get the point. We need more professionals and less citizen’s with so much self-esteem they don’t see their own limitations. For me, I am happy it is friday and I delivered work that will help people communicate.

  8. Kel Says:

    nothing but love for you too larry….

  9. Jack Speranza Says:

    Larry, your remarks on loyalty are spot on. When I left the private practice of law 11 years ago, this is exactly the level to where I felt the “profession” and its clients had sunk. I was part of a boutique litigation firm that was remarkably successful… our senior attorneys tried more cases in front of a jury than most other “litigators” would see in a year. We won a lot of cases that our own clients had written off as “losers.” Despite delivering repeated successes for our very sophisticated corporate clients, they were happy to take their work to the next lawyer down the street who was willing to charge $10/hour less (or beat us up on our average case cost because the average for the firm down the street was $1-2,000 less… even if they were not getting the same results). My former colleagues still try to “compete” in this market. I opted for a flavor of your “knowing who is the @#$hole” & chose a new line of work where I try to assure my clients and I remain focused on value and results. The jury’s still out on whether this will be as economically successful for me, but it sure is a hell of lot more gratifying! ;-)

  10. julie Says:

    Growing up my mom called it Thumpers rule -”If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all…” No matter what industry you are in, this is invaluable and can’t be taught in any school. All good things come to those with patience, character, hard work and determination. It’s a good thing when you go to sleep and like the person looking back at you in the mirror…Keep it up Kel:)

  11. Kel Says:

    julie, my mom used to say the same thing, but i never heard it called “thumpers rule.” unfortunately most schools, particularly mba programs, preach revenue growth. as you said, some really important life lessons get lost along the way. as always, thanks for taking the time to comment!

  12. Christopher Says:

    We are the ambassadors for our own industry. If we can’t improve the perception of our industry (and the underlying conditions that factor into perception) then no one can.

    As for firms that admire, Kel & Partners certainly is one of them. I met (your) Megan at an event recently, and she is a prime example of how your team is made up of rock stars and media powerhouses!

  13. Kel Says:

    christopher, thanks for the amazingly kind words. for the record, we think meagan is the bombdiggity!

  14. Melanie Stachowiak Says:

    Kel – I couldn’t agree more. There is way too much bad mouthing going on, but not just with PR firms…in all industries. I do happen to be in the PR world myself and observe this trash talking amongst firms and vendors. The best way to earn business is through a great pitch, reputation and referral. Looking forward to the day karma comes back around to give the evil doers a big kick in the butt.

  15. Kel Says:

    melanie, you and me both!

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